Bourque knows what it means to be a pro
Forward, 19, has proven his value on major-junior, international stages
By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
Even if they didn’t know his last name, most hockey fans would probably be able to tell that Rangers prospect Ryan Bourque is the son of one of the greatest players in NHL history.
Ryan, a 19-year-old forward selected by the Blueshirts in the third round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft at Montreal, bears a striking facial resemblance to his famous father, Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, whose legendary 22 seasons with the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche ended with NHL career records for goals, assists and points by a defenseman.
At 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Ryan is also very close to Ray's size at the same age, but when it comes to hockey, both he and his older brother Chris, a Washington Capitals prospect with 33 NHL games under his belt, have differentiated themselves in a basic way, choosing to play forward rather than the position forever associated with their dad.
"Obviously, I'm going to face (expectations) wherever I go with my last name," said Ryan, who plays both center and left wing. "But my dad was a Hall of Fame defenseman, so I feel that if can accomplish half of the things that he did in his career, I'd be pretty happy with mine -- hands down."
Growing up during his father's heyday in Boston, Bourque was given a rare, early opportunity to learn what it meant to be a professional. While he hasn’t reached the pro level yet, Bourque is already making a big name for himself in major-junior hockey, where he is coming off an outstanding rookie year with the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts.
|Although he was used primarily in a defensive role, Ryan Bourque assisted on one of Team USA goals during the Americans' thrilling win over Canada at the 2010 World Junior Championship tournament.|
Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director, Player Personnel, has known the Bourque family since Clark served as an assistant coach with the Bruins in the early 1990s. He sees the special off-ice dynamic between father and son as a great asset to Ryan.
"The only thing Ray has ever tried to do with his kids in hockey is just to tell them that they have to work as hard as they can on every shift, and if they do that, then whatever ability they have will come to the surface," said Clark. "That's the one thing he tried to drill into Ryan, which is probably the best example you can give a kid."
Ray Bourque's perspective was important in the months leading up to his son’s NHL draft day. After starring for the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., Ryan opted to turn down a scholarship offer from the University of New Hampshire and instead enter the QMJHL with Quebec.
On the Remparts, Bourque had a unique opportunity to play for another Hall of Famer in head coach Patrick Roy, who is also the team's co-owner and General Manager.
"At the time we drafted him, we loved where he was going, because Patrick Roy is so passionate about coaching as well as being one of his dad's best friends," said Clark. "But Patrick Roy didn't let that get in the way. He was hard on Ryan when he had to learn to play the Canadian junior style, which is very different from the U.S. Under-18 program where Ryan came from. Ryan adapted very, very well."
Bourque was something of an overnight sensation with the Remparts. In his major-junior debut on Sept. 18 after returning from the Blueshirts' training camp, he lit up visiting Shawinigan with two goals and an assist for No. 1 star honors in a 5-2 win. It was the first of his 10 multi-point QMJHL games last season, including three four-point performances that offered a glimpse of his scoring potential.
Due to a couple of injuries -- and his time with Team USA at the World Junior tournament -- Bourque missed 24 of Quebec’s 68 games last season. Yet he still managed to average just under a point per game, notching 19 goals and 24 assists to go with a plus-12 rating.
Bourque had some thrilling nights in 2009-10, including two regular-season games and one that saw him force overtime by scoring late in the third period. In each case, the Remparts went on to victories.
|Ryan Bourque and his Hall of Fame father, Ray Bourque, were all smiles at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal after the Rangers selected Ryan with the No. 80 overall pick in Rpund 3 of the draft.|
"I did have games where I broke out and kind of played really well offensively," said Bourque. "I like to be a two-way forward, but … the league in Quebec is a pretty offense-oriented league, and next year one of my focuses is to be a lot more consistent with (scoring). I want to be able to bring it offensively night in and night out. I think this year helped me to adjust, so hopefully I'll be able to do that next year.”
Despite his scoring accomplishments in the QMJHL, Bourque was asked to play a defensive role for Team USA at the World Junior tournament. He had three assists in a seven-game run to the gold medal -- including an assist in the final victory over Canada -- but his primary contribution came in killing penalties and matching up against the opponents' scoring threats.
Clark says Bourque is "very good on both sides of the puck", which made the Team USA experience even more valuable to his development. Bourque heartily agrees.
"When I was put in a situation on the World Junior team where it was more of in a defensive role, it really taught me a lot about how to play in that role and to buy into a role like that," said Bourque. "I'm a team guy. I'll play anywhere on the team or anywhere for the team as I did in that tournament."
Winning the gold at Saskatchewan was the true highlight of his season, a moment he shared with fellow Rangers prospects Chris Kreider, a childhood friend from Boxford, and Derek Stepan, who were also members of Team USA.
"That whole experience was surreal. It was one of the best experiences of my hockey career to date," said Bourque. "Just thinking about the 22 guys on that team. I knew them all growing up and playing with them, so it was just a surreal experience."
By the time he played his final QMJHL playoff game on April 7 -- when the Remparts fell to Victoriaville in the second round -- Bourque had spent nearly nine consecutive months on the ice since showing up at the Team USA training camp in August. It was a grueling year that went a long way toward his development but included many challenges as well.
"I think the hardest part was facing the adversity of the schedule in major-junior and how demanding it is with playing back-to-back-to-back games and kind of preparing yourself for games like that, continuously," Bourque said.
One of the keys to his 2009-10 success was Bourque's strong bond with his famous father and the insight he gained from an equally famous head coach.
"He (Ray Bourque) played two or three years of junior himself, so he knew what it was like. It was a lot harder in his day with the bus trips and everything like that, but he knew it was my first year, and he just said to have fun with it and just work hard every night, because you can't do more than that," the younger Bourque said. "My coach (Patrick Roy) was great with that, too, in terms of helping me adapt."
Looking ahead to next year, Bourque has very clear goals for himself in what would likely be his final season of major-junior eligibility.
"One of my goals is to be more consistent and just give a lot more to the team, whether it's offensively or defensively, he said. "I also want to try to step up and be a leader in Quebec, because last year I was just kind of a first-year guy. Next year I want to be a leader, and I want to be someone that guys can count on, because we all want our team to be as successful as we can be."
Bourque also hopes to be back at the World Junior tournament, which will be held on U.S. soil in Buffalo.
"Obviously, I'd like to win another gold medal if I get that opportunity again to play for my country," he said. "I'll try to have a great year, and I'll see where it goes from there."