If the path to the NHL takes a player through the ECHL, the stop typically precedes a tour of duty at the American Hockey League. Players certainly don’t graduate from the AHL to the ECHL.
So when Marc-Andre Bourdon found himself shipped from the Adirondack Phantoms to the Greenville Road Warriers of the ECHL last spring, the defenseman knew his opportunity to reach the NHL was waning. Though he partly was sent to the ECHL to rehab a concussion, it was not where he wanted to be.
“I think I was a good prospect when I came out of juniors and then two years later I end up finishing the season at the East Coast,” Bourdon said. “For sure, it’s a wakeup call.”
Bourdon, one of 12 rookies to suit up for the Flyers this season, was drafted in the third round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft out of the Québec Major Junior Hockey League, where he starred for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. He held high hopes for a career in professional hockey.
In juniors he had earned QMJHL Defenseman of the Year honors in 2008, but since joining the Flyers organization, the results had been underwhelming. Entering this season, Bourdon had compiled 29 points (3 goals, 26 assists) and had a -13 plus/minus rating in two seasons with the Phantoms.
“Some people in life maybe would give up or just do something else,” Bourdon said. “When I see a problem I just go over it. I don’t go beside it. I decided to just work harder. Some guys could have asked for a trade, but I wanted to live here and I wanted to prove to myself and everybody I could do it.”
Bourdon, 22, is getting that chance every day now.
The Flyers recalled Bourdon in November after Chris Pronger
suffered a concussion. For Bourdon, the call came less than seven months after a difficult 2011 season had concluded in the ECHL. He said the promotion caught him by surprise.
“Yeah it did, but I was ready,” Bourdon said. “Every single day I told myself, when I get called up you don’t get many chances in that league so I’m going to have to be ready. I was ready for that day. It was a long time; I was looking forward to it.”
Bourdon’s dream of playing in the NHL began years ago; the necessary work followed. However, his stint in the ECHL provided an extra jolt.
“I think I started realizing maybe my career wasn’t going the way I wanted it to go,” Bourdon said. “So, this summer I worked extra hard. I always worked pretty hard off the ice, but I worked extra hard and I made sure I was in the best condition I could when I came here.”
Bourdon said he regularly began utilizing the resources around him in a way many youngsters might not do. He made sure to visit the strength doctor, scheduled meetings with a sports psychiatrist and paid better attention to nutrition. He revamped his practice habits, working harder at the urging of his coaches.
Bourdon only played in one game during training camp and the Flyers, deep in defensemen, sent him back to the Phantoms. There, he registered three assists and owned a -5 plus/minus rating in 14 games.
A few injuries to the Flyers defense corps gave Bourdon his chance in the NHL.
“Nobody expected much (more) than two or three games out of me, but then the injuries kept coming,” he said. “I guess I just jumped in, fortunately. I’m just trying to work hard every day and help the team to win every day, learn and get better.”
Coach Peter Laviolette had not seen much of Bourdon prior to his November 21 recall. Bourdon’s minutes have steadily climbed since his first game.
“I think it starts with an opportunity,” Laviolette said. “You maybe find 10 minutes and then the 10 goes to 12 and if you’re doing a good job it might go to 15. He finds himself 17 to 20 minutes a night. He’s been really solid for us. He’s always got his head up. He makes a good play. Defensively, he’s been good.”
That’s about what the Flyers have asked of Bourdon. Though he is paired with Matt Carle
– Pronger’s old linemate – no one expects Bourdon to completely fill the void left by Pronger’s absence. Few players can.
Carle said he simply has asked Bourdon to communicate on the ice. Whether it’s positioning during face-offs or defending rushes, Carle said it’s most important they’re on the same page.
“When he first came in, he was just trying to keep things simple,” Carle said. “Now, he’s trying to make plays and he’s playing with more confidence. But at the same time, there’s going to be a few times where things aren’t going to go perfectly every play. That’s part of being professional – being able to put the mistakes behind you and focus on your next shift.”
Bourdon said he tries to glean whatever knowledge he can from Carle or any of the other defensemen. On the ice, he said he focuses on consistency, physicality and clearing the puck out of the zone.
Bourdon said he’s not taking anything for granted, either.
“It’s unbelievable how the organization treats us here,” Bourdon said. “You never want to go back to the AHL, that’s for sure. When you get a taste of this, you want to hold on to it.”