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Bourque earned promotion to Capitals

by John McGourty

Chris Bourque carries quite a hockey pedigree. Bourque's father, Raymond, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.
Thanks to a series of forward-thinking trades by General Manager George McPhee, the Washington Capitals wound up with four of the first 33 picks in the 2004 Entry Draft.

With Tuesday's promotion of left winger Chris Bourque, all four players now are wearing Capitals uniforms. That group includes the first overall pick in 2004, left winger Alexander Ovechkin, and a pair of defensemen, Jeff Schultz (27th) and Mike Green (29th).

Ovechkin won the 2006 Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year. Green was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team and played in the NHL YoungStars Game. Schultz did something that, perhaps, was more important: As a rookie, he topped Washington defensemen with a plus-5 rating. Schultz currently leads his team in average shorthanded ice time.

Bourque carries quite a hockey pedigree in joining his fellow draftees. Bourque's father, Raymond, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004 after a legendary career with the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche.

But that and $1.75 will get Chris a medium coffee at Starbucks.

The son made it here on his own merits and at a different position. Other than a facial resemblance and a willingness to work hard, they are dissimilar as players. Ray was a powerful defenseman. Chris is a quick-footed, scrappy winger.

Bourque may see some time on the off-wing or one of his left-winger teammates might because the Capitals have been weakened on the right side. Capitals right wingers Chris Clark and Alexander Semin are injured. Semin has an ankle problem and Clark hasn't played since Friday, when Ovechkin's slap shot hit him in the ear, requiring 80 stitches and causing balance problems.

Right winger Eric Fehr, Washington's first pick (18th overall) in 2003, has been struggling with back problems since the middle of last season and hasn't played this year.

Capitals officials and fans are hoping Bourque can add scoring. Only five teams have fewer than Washington's 33 goals this season.

"I think I can bring some energy and grit," Bourque said. "Even though I'm small at 5-foot-7, I can bring energy. I can score goals and make plays. Hopefully, they'll give me the chance to show them that."

Showing people what he can do has been a challenge for Bourque because of his size, but there's plenty of fight and determination within. He enrolled at Boston University and played 35 games for them, but left to join the AHL Portland Pirates late in his freshman season. Washington switched AHL affiliates and Bourque moved to Hershey, where he had eight goals and 26 assists in his first full pro season. He improved last season to 25 goals and 33 assists and followed with a productive Calder Cup Playoffs, posting two goals and six assists in 19 games as the Bears returned to the final.

He is tied for the Bears' team lead with three goals and he also has two assists in eight games.

Bourque said he got a lot out of competing in the playoffs, where elimination is a constant threat.

"It gives you that experience you need to succeed," Bourque said. "In any aspect of life, when you are going for something that you really, really want and you've worked really hard to get it, it raises the level of your outlook on things. It was so much fun playing for the Calder Cup championship last spring.

"You make a lot of good friends. It's a real bonding experience that can turn teammates into best friends. You work hard for two, three months with a bunch of really good guys who are pushing for one goal. We came up a little short, but we had a really great season and the Cup run is something I'll look back on and smile about."

Bourque spent the summer working at Mike Boyle's gym in Winchester, Mass. He wanted to be in the best physical condition of his career because he had an inkling that he might get called up this season. He said McPhee told him he would play as many games as he earns. That's all a player can ask for.

"It's up to me. That's the thing you want to hear, that they'll give you a chance," Bourque said. "That's all I want right now, is a chance to prove myself and play for the Washington Capitals in the NHL. That's been my dream since I was a little kid, to play in the NHL. I've been working pretty hard to reach that goal. It's starting to look like it's going to go that way but you don't want to jump to any conclusions."

Bourque is not overly concerned about his size. He's always been smaller and always been a top player. The style of play in the NHL is friendlier to his game than it was a few years ago. Smaller players like Martin St. Louis and Brian Gionta have dispelled some of the concerns NHL executives had about size, or lack thereof.

Bourque is not overly concerned about his size. He's always been smaller and has been a top player. The style of play in the NHL is friendlier to his game than it was a few years ago.

Still, big bodies usually can take more punishment than smaller ones. Bourque was asked if he tries to slip checks, like Tomas Kaberle, or does he crash headlong into bodies like fellow BU alumnus Mike Grier, the man working out on the next bench at Boyle's?

"I won't be afraid to try to go right through somebody but I also won't be shy to step out of the way of a check," Bourque said. You don't really want to get hit but sometimes you have to put your shoulder in the middle of someone's chest and I'm not afraid to do that. I'm not going to shy away from physical stuff because I'm short. It can be a positive.

"Some guys think they're going to kill you but you can get them off balance and knock them over. Then they're looking back wondering what just happened to them. Smaller guys can use speed and leverage to their advantage and that's what I try to do. You could look at my size as a negative but I try to find the ways in which my size can be a positive, work to my advantage."

Isn't it feet, not shoulders and biceps, which make a hockey player, Bourque was asked.

"Exactly. Size isn't the most important thing in the game anymore. You can be big or small, but you have to be strong and powerful, whatever your size."

Bourque might not get much ice time with Ovechkin because they are both left wingers, but he's very impressed with his fellow 2004 draftee.

"I skated with him in training camp, but not on the same line," Bourque said. "Just being out there with him, it's a pleasure to be on the ice with someone of that caliber. He's only 22-years-old and he's one of the biggest stars in the NHL.

"He's the kind of player you can build your team around. He has a lot of pressure of expectations, but he's already putting up big numbers. He's handling it very well, from what I've seen. You don't see his kind of talent around rinks that much so it's a real pleasure to be out there playing with him."

With four players from one draft class (2004) alone, 2006 first-rounder Nicklas Backstrom ranking sixth in team scoring, the three top picks from 2002 (Steve Eminger, Semin, Boyd Gordon) all in uniform and first-round draft picks smuggled from other organizations like Shaone Morrisonn, Viktor Kozlov and David Steckel, the Capitals' future is looking very bright.

What the Capitals need now more than anything is to learn how to win, consistently, together. Bourque hopes to be a big part of that learning and growing process.

"We have a really bright future. We have a lot of good young players in the program and a good mix of veterans," he said. "I haven't been around the Capitals' players too much, but in the time I did spend here, they had a really good atmosphere and a new practice facility. The coaching, management and staff have been good to me. They treat players with the kind of respect you expect to get in an NHL environment.

"We've got some really top prospects, including some high draft picks, maybe more than they know what to do with. That could be a good thing for the organization and raise expectations for the future when you consider the players in the system plus the ones in Washington right now."


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