“That’s not why I play the game,” explained the 19-year-old Rimouski Oceanic rearguard, and reigning QMJHL defenseman of the year. “Hockey is a team sport. You play for your teammates and coaches, for the fans and the town you represent. Winning is all that matters.”
A third round selection (67th overall) of the Flyers at last summer’s entry draft, Bourdon has emerged as one of the top all-around blueliners in the Q over the past two seasons. In fact, he led the circuit in scoring among defensemen for much of the current campaign, until suffering a broken finger in a game against Baie-Comeau last week.
|Marc-Andre Bourdon was named as the QMJHL's defenseman of the year last season. (Getty Images) |
The injury is expected to keep the 6-0 215-pound St-Hyacinthe, Quebec native out of action for up to the next three weeks. But he should be back in the lineup for the Oceanic well before the start of the postseason, in mid-March.
“It’s frustrating being out of the lineup, unable to help my team on the ice,” he explained. “But, the medical staff wants me to be cautious, which I understand. I can’t wait to get back to playing and help my team make a run at the Memorial Cup.
“It’s all I’ve been thinking about for a long time now.”
And, one way or another, Bourdon is guaranteed to get that chance.
Rimouski is scheduled to host the four-team Memorial Cup tournament this spring, assuring the team a shot at the richest prize in major junior hockey. Every year, the champions from the QMJHL, OHL, and WHL, along with a pre-chosen host team, compete for the trophy.
Last season, Bourdon, then a member of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, made it all the way to the QMJHL finals. There, the team was eliminated in five games at the hands of the Gatineau Olympiques and current Flyers rookie Claude Giroux
The series loss stung particularly hard, as the Huskies were favored after advancing with three straight four-game sweeps, over Val-d’Or, Rimouski, and St. John.
“It was very tough, getting that close to winning,” Bourdon noted. “It was really hard. We felt we were the better team, but we failed. That stayed with me for a long time. I wanted to get to the Memorial Cup badly before that, but coming so close has made it even worse.”
Despite the way it ended for his team, however, the 2007-08 season was a huge overall success for Bourdon, in terms of experience and development. After being chosen to serve as captain of the Huskies at only 18, he went on to earn rave reviews, showing significant improvement in virtually every aspect of his game.
Bourdon is a rare breed in that he is generally described as an offensive defenseman, but is also considered to be one of the most physical players in the Q. He’s a tough-as-nails competitor who is just as likely to punish a streaking forward with a big hit along the boards as he is to sink a dagger in the opposing team with a power play goal at the other end of the rink.
He is also well noted for his leadership abilities.
The numbers speak for themselves. Bourdon finished last season with 59 points (12 goals, 47 assists) in 69 games, tying him for the second most points among defensemen in the Q. His plus-39 ranking was also second-best in the circuit. Only eight other rearguards registered more than his 114 penalty minutes, but none had anywhere close to his point output.
“Even though we did not accomplish all of our goals as a team, last year was big for me,” Bourdon said. “I got the chance to show what I could do and prove myself as an all-around player. I try to do everything right, and that means not just scoring, but playing defense and hitting.”
For his efforts, Bourdon was named QMJHL defenseman of the year, and was also named to the league’s first all-star team.
Still, he was ranked only as the 125th best North American skater available at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Central Scouting Bureau, up from 202nd at the mid-term ranking.
“I think a lot of it had to do with my skating and mobility, things I’m still working on,” he figures. “I think I’ve made a lot of improvements in those areas, but I still have some work to do.”
Others speculated that Rouyn-Noranda’s physical situation as the second northernmost town among teams in the Q might have contributed to the curiously low ranking, as scouts may not have had the chance to travel to see him as much as other players.
“That could have been the case, too. I’ve heard that,” he said, with a laugh. “I don’t know, but I am sure glad I ended up being drafted by the Flyers. It was a huge moment for me, and I had a big sigh of relief after I found out.”
Bourdon had hoped to make a big impression on his new NHL team with a strong outing in his first rookie camp over the summer, but a back injury severely limited his ability to skate. He did return for the Flyers’ main training camp, getting in two days of work before being reassigned to his junior team.
“I wasn’t there long, but it was an amazing experience,” he said. “It was great to be on the same ice with a lot of NHL stars, especially guys from Quebec like Simon Gagne and Danny Briere
. I made a lot of friends with some of the other prospects and guys on the Phantoms. I hope to be playing with them soon.”
Back in Rouyn-Noranda, Bourdon picked right up where he had left off the previous season. However, as calendar approached the New Year, it became evident that the Huskies were not going to be able to contend at the level they had the previous season.
A variety of injuries to key players befell the team, which has hovered around the .500 mark all year, after finishing with the best record in the Q the previous season (47-20-2-1).
“About a week before the trading deadline, [Huskies general manager and head coach] André Tourigny came to me and talked about a possible trade. The team wanted to do the best for me, and I really appreciated it. I didn’t want to leave, but the chance to win a Memorial Cup is very important to me.”
On February 18, the Huskies dealt Bourdon to Rimouski. In an effort to further gear up for its playoff run, the team picked up another veteran defenseman, Maxime Ouimet, from the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. The two would be paired together upon their arrival.
“Playing with Maxime has been great,” explained Bourdon, who had 38 points (11 goals, 27 assists) in 37 games with the Huskies at the time of the trade. “We compliment each other really well.
“It was a bit of an adjustment coming to Rimouski, because things seem a little more structured here. It’s more defensive-oriented, but it didn’t take too long to get used to. I’m still able to play my offensive game the way I’m used to.”
Bourdon went on to record 22 points in his first 17 games with the Oceanic, which currently holds the sixth-best record in the Q at 38-22-1-0. The team is in good shape with regard to playoff positioning, and of course has the penciled-in spot in the Memorial Cup round robin to look forward to.
With 60 points in 54 games at the time of his injury, Bourdon led the Q in scoring among defensemen. He has since been overtaken by teammate Sébastien Piché (63 points in 57 games), and, baring an earlier-than-expected return, will not have a shot at the points title.
“That’s okay as far as I’m concerned, and I hope Sébastien can win it,” he said. “I set a goal before the season to try to lead the league in points, but that really is not important.
“It’s a great setup, and I am very fortunate [to have been traded to a contender],” Bourdon assessed. “The broken finger really puts a damper on things, because I really felt that I was settling in and things were going great. But, things happen, and maybe this will give me a little rest before the playoffs start.
“You always have to look at the positives.”
As with any young player who has recently been drafted, Bourdon often finds himself looking ahead. As much as he hopes to help deliver a Memorial Cup to Rimouski, he also can’t help but thinking about his ultimate personal goal to one day play in the NHL.
“I loved it in Rouyn-Noranda and I love it here [in Rimouski],” he said. “
I don’t want to play in Quebec next year. I want to be in the pros. I want to make a big impression on the Flyers in training camp and get a contract." - Marc-Andre Bourdon
“If I can’t make the Flyers I will be realistic, and hope to play for their team in the AHL. That is my personal goal, and I think I will make it. I just have to finish up strong here this year, and prove that I can be the player they want me to be.”
But, first things first…
“Right now, I’m focused only on helping Rimouski win the Memorial Cup. Not even just getting there, because we’re already in as the host, but winning it. And that means winning the [QMJHL] championship first, and then establishing our team as the best in junior hockey in Canada.
“We have the talent and the players to do it. It’s like any of the steps in life. If you think you can then, well, you can. It’s as simple as that, and we definitely believe we can.”
The Flyers will be watching.