While the NHL lockout drags on, minor league hockey players are having a typical season, minus one thing: the hope of being called up.
And getting called up is the point. Ask any minor leaguer about the NHL team he loved when he was little and you’ll get responses like this one from Chris Bourque:
“My dream was to play in the NHL, but it was also to be able to play for the Boston Bruins. Those guys were heroes to me growing up as a kid.”
Bourque is a forward for the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League, but unlike most minor leaguers, Bourque knew his heroes well. Chris’s father, Hall-of-Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, played for Providence’s parent club in Boston from 1979 to 2000. “When I was a little kid I pretty much grew up in that Boston locker room,” Chris said.
Chris has spent most of his seven minor-league seasons in the Capitals organization, but Washington traded him to Boston in May. He was eager to impress the Boston staff during training camp this fall, but the lockout has kept him in Rhode Island.
“It’s definitely upsetting. It’s a little disappointing that the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. But I think everybody’s got their fingers crossed that they’ll get it settled and hopefully the NHL can get started because I think everybody misses it… the players, the fans, everyone,” Bourque said after a recent practice at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence. “It’s not a good situation for anyone.”
Playing for the Hershey Bears last season, Bourque led the AHL in points. But his minor-league successes have only translated to 33 NHL games with just one goal in a handful of call-ups. Providence Head Coach Bruce Cassidy can relate to Bourque’s frustration with the lockout.
“I think guys that play in the minors, and have for any length of time, know that there’s a lot of adversity that they’ve got fight through to get up there,” said Cassidy, who spent 12 years in the minors and European leagues during his playing days. “It’s just another little piece of adversity.”
Cassidy says Bourque is getting extra attention because of his family ties to the Bruins franchise, but he doesn’t think the 26-year-old feels any extra pressure.
“It doesn’t seem like that bothers him,” said Cassidy. “But everyone wants to make their father proud and I think part of the reason he ended up in Boston is he’d love to follow in his father’s footsteps.”
While Chris Bourque is hoping he’ll get the chance to merge his father’s history with his own hockey future, he’ll settle for another kind of on-ice family reunion for now. His little brother, Ryan, plays for the Connecticut Whale.
“Those dates, I definitely circle. Just to watch him and see how he’s doing. It’s my little brother, I want to see him do well. I’d like to see him score a hat trick and us win 4-3.”
On Saturday night, Chris didn’t exactly get his wish. The Whale beat the Bruins 6-3, but both brothers fared well. Chris had two assists and Ryan scored a goal. More importantly, during the lockout, they were still on the ice.
In fact, the only Bourque without any points that night was Ray. He was in the stands.