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Tough Alberta weather won't bother Flames' Bourque

by Dave Lozo /
Rene Bourque was playing hockey at the University of Wisconsin when the Edmonton Oilers hosted the Montreal Canadiens in the Heritage Classic in 2003. The native of Lac La Biche, Alta., didn't get to attend that outdoor game, at Commonwealth Stadium, but he most definitely had a rooting interest.

Bourque, now in his third season with the Calgary Flames, grew up a die-hard Oilers fan. He signed his first professional contract with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2004 and spent his rookie season there in 2005-06.

Despite his paid allegiance to the Blackhawks, Bourque admitted his heart still belonged to the Oilers.

"At that point, for sure. I was a big Oilers fan," Bourque said. "I remember even after I started in Chicago, when the Oilers went to the Final in 2005-06, I went to a couple games in Edmonton. I was still cheering for them."

Before Flames fans start worrying they have a double-agent in their midst, his time in Calgary has helped him develop a true distaste for all things Oilers.

"I definitely grew up an Oilers fan," Bourque said. "It's weird to be on the other side now in Calgary, because you hate the Oilers now. Every time we play them it's a war, so it's funny to be in my situation."

After missing out on his seeing his favorite team play in the NHL's first outdoor game, Bourque will be a part of the 2011 Heritage Classic when the Flames host the Canadiens on Feb. 20 at McMahon Stadium. It will be the first outdoor game in Canada since that Habs-Oilers matchup eight years earlier.

"I'm excited. I think it'll be a pretty special experience to play an outdoor game, especially in Calgary at McMahon Stadium," Bourque said. "After watching games in Wrigley Field and in Buffalo, it'll be exciting. Especially against Montreal. I think our guys are looking forward to it. We've been looking forward to it since the schedule came out. Hopefully it won't be too cold."

It's impossible to predict what the temperature will be when the teams take the ice that day -- it could be freezing or it could be sweltering. But the fans who attended this past weekend's CFL game at McMahon Stadium showed extreme temperatures won't keep them away.

"I saw highlights from the game between the Roughriders and Stampeders," Bourque said. "It was minus-25, minus-30 (Celsius). So if they're going to come out for that, I'm sure they're going to come out for the hockey game."

Bourque was born in Edmonton and got his first taste of outdoor hockey there, so he's well aware of how cold it can get in Alberta. He lived there until he was 7 and said he once played outside when it was minus-40 degrees and relied heavily on an outdoor shack the neighborhood kids used to get warm.

Outdoor hockey was the norm for Bourque, who said there was a lack of indoor places to play in Edmonton

"Even when I grew up in Edmonton, we had a lot of outdoor practices," Bourque said. "There was a shortage of rinks in Edmonton when I played there. I lived on the north side of Edmonton. I remember going out to outdoor rinks to have to actually practice and for actual games."

Not a lot changed when Bourque moved to Lac La Biche, which is about four hours north of Edmonton. But he did have easier access to ice.

"I had an outdoor rink pretty much right across the street from my house where I grew up," Bourque said. "Every day after school I'd play with a bunch of friends. You'd get called home when it was time to go to bed. It was fun. I had a great setup. As soon as my homework was done, I'd take care of some chores and I was good to go. I definitely spent a lot of time out there.

"Probably every day after school I'd go to the outdoor rink. When you're growing up in a small town you only practice once or twice a week, so we wouldn't get a lot of time on the ice as it is as far as a team. If we weren't out at practice, we were in a small town and we all lived close to each other so most of the guys were at the outdoor rink."
"It'll be exciting. Especially against Montreal. I think our guys are looking forward to it. We've been looking forward to it since the schedule came out. Hopefully it won't be too cold." -- Rene Bourque
Now Bourque will get the chance to play the most meaningful outdoor hockey game of his career in front of nearly 50,000 passionate Flames fans. If it's anything like the environment at the Saddledome for a playoff game, Bourque will be in for a treat.

"It's one of the cool experiences of playing in Calgary. I only made the playoffs once, but the 'C of Red' is pretty neat to play in front of," Bourque said. "The fans are behind you. Even right now, the regular season, you look in the stands and it's all red. Everybody has a jersey or T-shirt or something red. It's pretty neat. There's not a lot of buildings like that.

"I'm very lucky."

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