Bourque ready to carry on family legacy with P-Bruins

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Bourque ready to carry on family legacy with P-Bruins

PROVIDENCE Chris Bourque returns to the New England hockey scene a very different guy.

The 26-year-old Bourque was a college hockey phenom at Boston University when he bolted the Comm. Ave campus after one year to sign with the Caps and begin his professional hockey career. The 5-foot-8 playmaker was confident as a teenager that grew up as hockey royalty on the North Shore as the oldest son of a Boston Bruins Hall of Fame defenseman, and probably unaware of how difficult it would be for him to secure a full-time NHL job.

Like so many people in life, Bourque has gained wisdom as experience and time have taught him things about both himself and the game he loves so very much.

Im definitely older and more mature, for sure, said Bourque. Ive grown a lot as a player and as a person in all aspects. Hopefully that will get me to the next level when in my younger years I might not have been mature enough to handle the next level.

To get to the NHL you need to be on top of your game every night and be consistent. I think Ive learned that. I pretty much grew up in the Bruins locker room when my dad was playing here. Playing pro hockey was always my big dream and playing for the Boston Bruins was the other dream. To get a chance to do that is special for me. Ive dreamt about pulling that Bruins sweater over my head.

It seems like an almost perfect fit that Bourque comes back to the Boston area entering the prime of his hockey career, and will start his auditioning process for a job with the Bruins by starring for the Providence Bs instead.

Bourque should get his look if theres an abbreviated NHL training camp in November or December along with a handful of other Boston roster hopefuls.

But it's nose to the AHL grindstone until then, and Bourque proved last year he could handle that adeptly with 93 points for the AHL Hershey Bears. Bourque will electrify the power play, and showed in just one preseason game that his passing vision and quick decision-making will lead to buckets of points for the Bs.

But theres also the leadership component hes looking to play with skilled youngsters like Jared Knight, Carter Camper and Ryan Spooner, and the Bruins found themselves a very good player for the price of another (Zach Hamill) that had run his course in the Bs organization.

Im more excited about teaching the young players things about becoming a pro that other guys helped me out with. Now its time for me to play the other role and put them on the right path, said Bourque, who harkened back to his days as a teenager navigating through pro hockey. Being away from home for the first time was tough. I played at prep school and at BU in the Boston area, so it was all in the area.

The time away from the rink was the toughest part. Being on your own and little things like doing your own laundry, doing your dishes, cooking for yourselfthose are all new to these guys after they were living with billets in juniors. Taking care of yourself and basically becoming a man is a little eye-opening when youre doing it for the first time.

He would have competed for the open third line role in Boston with Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight if there had been a normal NHL camp, and he knows its still a winnable competition if he can show his matured game in Providence starting tonight against the Manchester Monarchs. Its AHL opening night across North America and a watershed moment for so many young players in their pro hockey debuts.

But Bourque has other things in mind while the AHL ranks as the only pro hockey game in town with the Bs locked out for the time being.

The AHL season is starting today and its something weve all been looking forward to, said Bourque. We need to focus on playing hockey games for Providence and let everything else take of itself. Hopefully a few of us get the call to Boston when the NHL gets going and challenge for a roster spot.

It will be in the back of my mind, Im sure, but itll be all about focusing on the action down here.

Bourque has been unable to win a permanent NHL gig in either Washington or Pittsburgh during stints for both Eastern Conference teams, and those were learning experiences as well. The Bruins brass many of whom played long years with Ray Bourque and have known Chris since he was newborn baby think Boston will be the place for a highly skilled player that was seemingly born to play for the Black and Gold.

Theres a soft spot for me, obviously, said Bs assistant general manager Don Sweeney. Ive know Chris since he was born. Ive watched him play on other teams and Ive seen the success that hes had. I welcomed him here to help some of our other guys be in a pressure environment and then rise to that NHL level. Because I know thats what he covets.

Hes as competitive as any of these other guys, if not more so. His hockey IQ is off the charts. Were excited to have him. Hes the only one that can tell you if hes received bona fide chances at other places, but I think hes learned that hes going to need to play different roles. He knows if hes up with Boston he wont necessarily be on the power play. He might have to kill penalties and be an energy guy, and hes in a better position to handle that. Were also in a spot with the lockout where the Bruins coaching staff can get a good look at him, maybe see that he can play some of those other roles as well.

So whats the best part about being home for Chris in the Massachusetts area where he grew up?

The perfect example was last weekend. We had an off day on Sunday and I was able to go home and watch the Patriots game with my family, said Bourque. Im not far from home, so its great for my wife and my baby to have my grandparents so close by in the area.

You can take the boy out of Boston, but you cant the Boston sports out of the boys blood no matter what you do.

Bruins make official free agent signings of Liles, Nash, Khudobin

Bruins make official free agent signings of Liles, Nash, Khudobin

The Bruins made a number of signings official on the first day of NHL free agency on Friday along with the big prize in hard-hitting, productive center David Backes.

Backup goaltender Anton Khudobin signed a two-year deal worth $1.2 million per season to return as a goaltending tandem with Tuukka Rask as they were back in a highly successful 2012-13 NHL season.

Hustling, grinding fourth line forward Riley Nash was signed to a two-year, $1.8 million contract with the Bruins as well, and had nine goals and 22 points in 64 games for the Carolina Hurricanes last season in an energy forward role. In his five-year NHL career, Nash has played in 242 games, amassing 31 goals and 50 assists for 81 points with 69 penalty minutes, including a career-high 10 goals a couple of years ago with the Hurricanes.

The 36-year-old John-Michael Liles signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Bruins after arriving from Carolina at the NHL trade deadline last spring. Liles appeared in 17 games and notched six assists along with a minus-6 rating for the Bruins in 2015-16 after being acquired for Anthony Camara, a 2016 third-round pick and a 2017 fifth-round pick on February 29, 2016. Prior to joining up with Boston, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Liles played in all 64 games for Carolina, recording six goals and nine assists for 15 points with 16 penalty minutes.

“We went out to identify a primary target in David Backes as a center, right wing candidate. He provides depth and balance to our lineup, as did Riley Nash. And Anton Khudobin addressed an area that we seemed to have chased for a little while and possibly with Malcolm’s [Subban] injury we needed to address that for the next couple of seasons. John-Michael Liles is a player that we acquired last year that really added a lot to the mobility and the transition game and we’re excited about bringing him back,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “Tim Schaller was a local boy at Providence College that we went out and identified another size, strength, left-shot, penalty kill and continued to add depth. Tyler Randell emerged last year was on our roster all year long, contributed and was a real hard-nosed player, sticks up for his teammates, was able to contribute goals, albeit not necessarily in the lineup every night, bringing balance. And Tommy Cross and the leadership qualities he brings to Providence for younger players to continue to develop.

“He found himself playing in NHL games, acquainted himself very well, just a real quality person across the board. So I think the overall philosophy of today and going into the free agent period was to address some needs and we did that. But we’ve created what I think is a real internal competition for our younger players to step up and emerge around what I think we’ve added to the core group of our players. They should be excited about this opportunity.”

Tommy Cross, Tyler Randell and Tim Schaller all signed one-year, two-way deals with the Bruins for an NHL value of $600,000, but are all expected to play the bulk of the season at the AHL level barring anything unexpected. 

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs

Backes: Most of the talk has me playing center for Bruins

Backes: Most of the talk has me playing center for Bruins

David Backes on the Felger and Mazz show on 98.5 The Sports Hub, and simulcast on CSN, tells fill-in hosts Jim Murray and Greg Dickerson there has also been some discussion with the Bruins of putting him on the wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

Watch the video above for more. 

Bruins lose Stempniak, Eriksson, others in free agency

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Bruins lose Stempniak, Eriksson, others in free agency

The Bruins lost a number of free agents on after the market opened at noontime. None bigger than Loui Eriksson signing a six-year, $36 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks to play with the Sedin Twins.

It’s the exact level of term and salary that Eriksson said he was looking for from the Bruins in contract negotiations around the trade deadline, but the Bruins never really moved from their offer of a four-year deal at comparable money.

The Bruins will miss the 30-goal production and solid all-around, two-way play from Eriksson as he heads to the West Coast, but they also traded in a passive player in Eriksson for an in-your-face, physical leader in David Backes on a five-year deal. 

Backes is much more of a Bruins-style player than Eriksson could have ever hoped to have been. That part of it is a win for a Bruins fan base that wants intensity and physicality from their players.

The Bruins also watched Jonas Gustavsson sign a one-year, $800,000 contract with Peter Chiarelli and the Edmonton Oilers, Brett Connolly sign a one-year deal for $850,000 with the Washington Capitals, Zach Trotman signs a one-year deal for $950,000 and Lee Stempniak ink a two-year, $5 million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes after being a non-contract training camp invite with New Jersey last season.

Sweeney had maintained as late as Thursday that he was still keeping ties with many of Boston’s free agents prior to the noon opening of the free agent market, but clearly that’s changed.

“We’ll continue to have talks and sort of figure out where things may go. We’ve had talks with a number of players to see what they would like to see as the opportunity here or what we see as a fit,” said Sweeney on the Torey Krug conference call on Thursday night. “I haven’t ruled absolutely any of that out; just haven’t found common ground and obviously it gets harder and harder as we go further along in the process.”