Rene Bourque didn’t take the most conventional or straightest route to the National Hockey League. But he always felt he was going to make it. Never let the goal get too far out of sight.
Bourque didn’t play in the Western Hockey League, choosing the college route instead. That took him through famed Notre Dame College in Saskatchewan for midget hockey and a one-year spin with the St. Albert Saints of the Alberta Junior Hockey League before landing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“I had spent one year at Notre Dame and I went to Saskatoon (Blades of the WHL) and made the team. But I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to college or not. So I went back to Notre Dame for another year of midget and realized I wanted to go to college,” explained Bourque, acquired by the Flames in a trade with Chicago last July.
“I really didn’t know much about college hockey and how big it was before I went down there. I went down over Christmas when I was playing in St. Albert (1999-2000). I got to see a couple of games and tour the campus. As soon as I stepped off the plane I knew I wanted to go there. It was a big deal. It opened my eyes up quite a bit. I wanted to play hockey and it was a great spot to play for four years.”
An NHL team didn’t draft Bourque but, because he believed he could make it, he wasn’t worried about being a free agent. And he was correct. Once he finished his four years at Wisconsin – the last two he led the team in scoring -- the offers came rolling in.
“I had a chance to sign with five or six teams as a free agent,” explained Bourque, who was coached by former Flames assistant coach Mike Eaves at Wisconsin. “I chose Chicago because they were a young team and I would get a chance to play right away. It worked out perfect for me. I played in the American Hockey League for a year and played a ton.”
And, we might add, impressed a ton.
Bourque led Norfolk in scoring with 60 points and set a franchise record with 33 goals en route to being named the top rookie in the AHL. He also won the hardest shot competition at the AHL all-star game, with a 99.8 mile an hour blast.
That was in 2004-05 and, with an NHL career within his grasp, Bourque seized the opportunity and made the Chicago Blackhawks the next season.
“I made the team out of camp and got a lot of ice time my rookie year,” said Bourque, who registered 16 goals and 34 points in his first full NHL season. “I knew there were a lot of guys that weren’t drafted that still made it. I knew I was good enough. It was a matter of getting a chance. Timing is everything and it worked out for me in Chicago.”
|Bourque has 14 points for Flames |
Then, early in the 2006 season, he was involved in a scary on-ice incident that threatened a promising career. In a game against Columbus Bourque was accidentally cut in the throat by the skate of Nikolai Zherdev and rushed to the University of Chicago Hospital. The skate had cut through a neck muscle and into his jugular vein.
“I had surgery that night for two hours. I was, obviously, scared because I didn’t know if I was going to make it,” he recalled. “The doctors I had were awesome. I lost a lot of blood right away. They put a lot of pressure on the neck and took care of me all the way to the hospital.”
The recovery would take two months and that included nearly a month of doing nothing at all while his veins healed and his blood pressure returned to normal levels.
“Physically it wasn’t too bad. I recovered well,” said Bourque. “It was the mental part of the game and getting back into contact. It took a while for me to feel comfortable out there, especially hitting guys and getting sticks in the face and going to the net.”
If you have watched Bourque at all this season with the Flames, you know that big parts of his game are hitting guys and going to the net. The sticks in the face are, well, an occupational hazard of the previous two traits.
“Versatile is a good way to describe him,” noted Flames assistant coach Rich Preston. “He is big, strong, skates well and he had a hard shot.”
That gives the Flames the leeway to use Bourque in a number of situations – including on the first line and on the power play. Not to mention he is one of the better penalty-killers in the league.
After battling though injuries the last two seasons in Chicago, his offensive output dipped a little but Bourque has a renewed energy here in Calgary. He’s playing in Canada. He’s in his home province. And he is getting ice time and playing, essentially, in the Flames top six forward group.
Early in the season he was paired up with another newcomer, Mike Cammalleri
, and speedster Matthew Lombardi to form the Flames second line.
“I think there is a little bit of everything on that line,” said Bourque. “I think we all skate well and have quite a bit of speed. We like to get the puck with speed and get into the zone with speed. Everybody on the line has pretty good hockey sense.
“We’re all capable of putting the puck in the net and setting guys up and we aren’t afraid to go into the corner.”
More recently he has been playing on an energy line with Craig Conroy and Curtis Glencross
where both he and Glencross are providing offence and a fearsome forecheck.
Bourque chuckles at the notion of winning the hardest shot competition at the Flames Superskills Competition which is slated for January 11, 2009. The reigning champ is Adrian Aucoin.
“We’ll see,” smiled Bourque. “I don’t even think I have had a chance this season o take a slap shot. There’s no time to use it. You have to pick a corner.”
Ah yes, there’s always the most accurate shooter competition. Being the versatile player that he is, Bourque would likely do just as well knocking out targets as blasting a 100 mile an hour slap shot.
|This article was first pubished in Blaze Magazine. Available at all Flames games for just $5. || |
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