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.