Ray Bourque was the quintessential old man chasing a cup

Virtually every Stanley Cup Playoff has at least one veteran sentimental favorite who’s never won it all before and might just get his last shot, like Shea Weber in 2021, or Joe Pavelski in 2020, or Joe Thornton every year since. 1919. These guys, more often than not, have racked up impressive career stats while always staying on the outside. Typically, if they’ve been rising for years and their team doesn’t feel close to a title, those players will fight their way to a contender. A Cup becomes their real priority at this stage of their career, the ultimate achievement that can cement, if not transform, a legacy. All of these guys are continuing what Ray Bourque enjoyed in 2001.

Bourque was a transcendental great defenseman in the 80s and 90s. Drafted eighth overall in the QMJHL in 1979 – part of a packed and oversized class due to the lowering of his minimum age by the league – Bourque is entered the ice the same year for the Boston Bruins and immediately became a scoring machine. Even in the shadow of Bobby Orr, who played his last game with the Bruins in 1975, Bourque carved out a place as a Boston legend with his precise shooting, his ability to impose his will on the ice and his humble consistency. . with whom he led his team. He won the Calder and earned an all-star spot as a rookie, then kept adding accolades from there. He averaged at least a point per game in 14 of the NHL’s 22 seasons, won the Norris five times and finished second six times, set all sorts of career records for a defenseman and became the longest-serving captain in NHL history until later passed by Steve Yzerman.

The Bruins of that era, however, were so special I can barely relate to them. After winning the Stanley Cup in 1972, they made the NHL playoffs for the next 24 seasons. In those 24 seasons, which included Bourque’s first 17 years as a professional, the Bruins never lifted a cup again. In fact, Bourque only reached the Finals twice, and in each of those two appearances, Boston was beaten by the Oilers dynasty by a combined eight games to one. How strange and frustrating it must have been to live as a fan or a gamer: blessed never to have a low year, but cursed to see that hope turn into failure every time.

In the 1990s, as Bourque grew older, the results deteriorated. In 1993, the Bruins were swept out of the first round by the Sabers after five straight years of advancing to at least the second round and usually further. After dropping in the second round to the Devils the following year, Boston would suffer two more five-game outings. In 1996-97, the bottom finally fell, as a restless goaltending carousel and the loss of Hall of Fame forward Cam Neely combined to send the Bruins to the bottom of the NHL.

With the emergence of Byron Dafoe in net, the acquisition of players like Jason Allison and Dmitri Khristich, as well as new top draft picks Sergei Samsonov and Joe Thornton, the Bruins were quickly able to rebound enough to return to the playoffs. Their positive momentum was halted in the 1999-2000 season, however, when the Bruins traded Khristich and suffered a slew of injuries that sent them back to the basement. Marty McSorley’s ominous attack on the Canucks’ Donald Brashear made matters worse in February, resulting in the Bruins enforcer being convicted of assault and essentially ostracized from the NHL.

So the vibes around Boston were pretty bad, and at that point Bourque was 39, even though he was still logging more ice time than anyone else on the team. He knew the end of his career was approaching and his Bruins were no closer to winning the Cup. He also knew it could be mutually beneficial if he went to a contender and the Bruins got a handful of young players, so Bourque formally requested a trade from general manager Harry Sinden before the March deadline. While the original plan was to keep him in the area where his life was firmly established – somewhere like New Jersey or Philadelphia – it was the Colorado Avalanche who stepped up and put in place the package that took Bourque away from the city where he became an icon. . For the first time since his teenage years, Bourque was moving away from his family and his home to play with unknown teammates in an unfamiliar city.

“A week before the trade, I asked to be traded. It’s something I had been really thinking about for quite a while, probably for about a month, a month and a half,” Bourque said the day after the “I wasn’t playing very well. The team wasn’t doing really well, and I thought a change might be good and might be necessary.

“I would like to compete for the Cup again and have another chance before I finish,” he added.

He wouldn’t get his wish in 2000. The Avalanche had a formidable roster with Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, and Bourque became a key fixture who recorded 14 points in 14 regular season games and went on to do an average of a staggering 29:38 of ice time in the playoffs. But the team just missed a third-period comeback against the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the Conference Finals. With 15 seconds remaining, a potentially equalizing shot from Bourque deflected and hit the post.

Bourque decided to return to the Avs for the following season, and in doing so he became a member of one of the greatest teams in NHL history. Led by a legendary season of 54 goals and 118 points from Sakic and augmented by youngsters like Milan Hejduk, Alex Tanguay and Chris Drury, the Avalanche amassed 118 points to win the Presidents’ Trophy. Bourque, for his part, took over after an injury to Adam Foote and the offseason loss of another key defenseman in Sandis Ozolinsh, playing 80 games and averaging more than 26 minutes of ice time. He also received a huge ovation when he returned to Boston as a member of the opposing team. Everyone at home, it seemed, was supporting the Avs to give him that cup. There was no hard feelings here.

At the end of the regular season, Foote was healthy and Rob Blake came in from Los Angeles as a major backup, and this blue line trio was ubiquitous in the playoffs, where each of them played more than 28 minutes per night while Roy put up a goals-against-average of just 1.70. The Avs swept the Canucks in the first round, avoided the fate of arch-rivals the Red Wings by passing the Kings in seven games, then knocked out the Blues in five to earn a date with the Devils.

In a tough back-and-forth series that pitted two elite goaltenders against each other and went the distance, the Avalanche emerged with their hands up in victory. In Game 3, Bourque scored the game-winning goal early in the third period, and in a pair of playoffs at the end, he went plus-5. Winning the Cup would have been a feel-good moment, no matter how much Bourque actually contributed to the champions, but the fact that at the very end of his career he could still be one of the best players in a such a great team. raises its legend even higher.

It’s a fun game to play, in the moments following the end of an NHL season, to try to guess which deserving veteran will be honored by their captain and hand the Cup to be hoisted before anyone else. In Denver that night, there was no suspense. In fact, Sakic didn’t even enjoy his moment with the trophy before handing it to Bourque, and the captain refused to take it back until Bourque skated a lap with it. Bourque had played 1,826 NHL games, and no one else had ever waited that long for that moment to come.

This tiny fraction of Bourque’s career had such an impact that the Avs even retired his number the following season, after Bourque announced his retirement. But even after leaving the rink to celebrate, there was still another town to share their joy with. Three days later, Bourque took the Cup to Boston’s City Hall Plaza, where some 20,000 fans showed up to bask in its glow.

While Bourque’s win at the time stood out in a city whose teams were all battling for relevance, in retrospect it seemed like a prologue to the grueling era of dominance that Boston sports would soon savor. And in the NHL, remembering Bourque with the cup can be a kind of beacon of hope for guys like Thornton, Ryan Suter, Brent Burns, Zach Parise or any other player who didn’t have his name engraved on the NHL. cut and can see that the end is fast approaching. Sometimes a storybook ending isn’t just about storybooks.

About Mildred B.

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