A version of the following story appeared in the 2014-15 third edition of AVALANCHE, the official game magazine of the Colorado Avalanche Hockey Club. For more feature stories, purchase a copy of the magazine during Avs home games at Pepsi Center. All proceeds from game-magazine sales support youth hockey associations in Colorado.
If Troy Bourke looked out of place in his first professional game, it didn't seem to show.
Less than a week after concluding his junior career, and two days after signing a professional tryout agreement, Bourke (pronounced BURK) made his pro hockey debut on March 21, 2014 with the Lake Erie Monsters and shined on the larger American Hockey League stage.
|Bourke celebrates after scoring his first pro goal with the Monsters on March 21, 2014 (Photo: John Saraya/Lake Erie). |
The 5-foot-10 forward tallied a goal and two assists to help the Colorado Avalanche's minor-league affiliate to a 5-0 victory over the Rochester Americans.
“I didn’t expect to have a three-point night my first night, but credit goes out to my linemates though," Bourke said at the beginning of this past season. "They were making plays and everything, and it was a fun game. It was definitely memorable for me.”
It was the start of a successful 15-game AHL campaign for the Edmonton, Alberta native, one that concluded with seven points (three goals and four assists) and a three-year, entry-level contract from the Avalanche last May.
He recently completed his first full season with Lake Erie, recording nine goals and 13 assists in 61 contests.
Having played four full years of junior with the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League, Bourke left as the franchise's all-time leader in scoring with 236 points (84 goals and 152 assists) in 276 games and was confident in his abilities to impress during his tryout last spring.
"I didn’t know how much ice time I was getting or even if I was playing any games, but coach put me in the lineup pretty early when I got there," Bourke said of his early experience with Lake Erie. "I went out there, and I felt pretty good coming off my P.G. season. I was pretty successful there. I felt pretty good on the ice."
Located in central British Columbia, the city of Prince George—or P.G. for short—is home to just over 70,000 people and is one of the more secluded junior hockey cities in the entire Canadian Hockey League. It is roughly a seven-hour bus ride to the next nearest major-junior town in Kamloops, British Columbia, and that's with good weather.
Though it is remote, the city and team were a perfect fit for Bourke.
“I love P.G. It was a good home for me; it was a good fit for me," Bourke said. "It would have been nice to have more success there, but it was a good journey while it lasted.”
|Photo credit: Ralph Posteraro |
Already a fan favorite, Bourke was named team captain of the Cougars for the 2013-14 campaign and looked to have a strong season to compete for the franchise's all-time scoring title. He was also looking to lead the club back to the postseason for only the second time in his tenure.
With 85 points (29 goals and 56 assists) in his final season, he was able to break Eric Hunter's previous team record of 233 points—thanks in part to a four-point night in his final WHL contest against Kamloops on March 15. However, the team missed the playoffs after falling six points short.
“It killed me inside not to make the playoffs for three straight years," Bourke said. "It’s definitely tough as the captain not getting your team there. You feel like you let the boys down a bit, but it was a long journey."
Selected by the Avalanche in the third round at No. 72 overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, Bourke had a tremendous first training camp with Colorado in 2013 after being placed on a line with NHL veterans Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly.
It was clear that the trio was the best line combination on the ice, and Bourke had a big part in contributing to its success with a few nice goals and assists during the scrimmages.
“Honestly, it was like a dream when I had seen the lineup on the door, I couldn’t believe it," said Bourke, reflecting on the experience of playing with the two Avalanche stars. "I was pretty much star struck to be honest. For the first game, there were some jitters in there, but the second game came around and I started to be more comfortable and started interacting a little bit more with them. I produced a little bit on the ice, but it was definitely fun. It’s easy to play with those guys."
Playing with Duchene and O'Reilly again in the future for the Avalanche would be a dream come true for Bourke, not only because it would signify playing in the NHL, but also because he'd be doing it for one of his favorite childhood teams.
“Not very often you get a chance to play for the team you looked up to when you were growing up," Bourke said. "As a kid the Avs were my favorite team, but as soon as I got drafted and signed, it started becoming a reality for me. It was a cool feeling."
The proof is on Bourke's Twitter account. His profile picture has hardly changed from the photo taken on draft day of him with legendary Avs captain and current general manager Joe Sakic. And after signing his contract, he posted another picture, this one of a young boy with blonde hair smiling while wearing hockey skates and an Avalanche jersey.
Someday that kid might be wearing the same outfit in the NHL.