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|Bourque brothers face similar obstacles following their father|
|Written by Dan Marrazza|
|Friday, 21 December 2012 14:13|
Ray Bourque's five career Norris Trophies and NHL defenseman records in goals, assists and points established him as one of the finest blueliners in NHL history. Twelve years after Bourque played his last professional game his sons, Chris and Ryan, are attempting to carve their own niches into professional hockey.Throughout the month of December, the Providence Bruins have been one of the American Hockey League’s hottest teams.
Besides lifting them from the depths of the Eastern Conference standings, the P-Bruins’ 6-1-0-1 month has also established the Boston Bruins’ top affiliate as one of the surprise teams of the AHL season’s first half. Because in describing Providence—a team which has missed the playoffs the last three years—as being just four points out of first place in its division in mid-December without a single player on its roster who’d be a full-time Boston Bruin without an NHL lockout, “surprise” might be the only appropriate word to use.
However, the one part of the P-Bruins’ success that shouldn’t come as a surprise is how well the team’s leading scorer, Chris Bourque, has played. Bourque, a veteran play-making center who is the oldest son of Boston Bruins legend Ray Bourque, has 20 points (2g, 18a) through his team’s first 24 games, after leading the entire AHL in scoring last season when he racked up 93 points in 73 games with the Hershey Bears.
“He brings a certain level of speed and skill to our lineup,” said P-Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy of Bourque. “He’s a guy who has won two or three championships (Note: Chris Bourque won Calder Cups with Hershey in 2006, 2009 and 2010) and won scoring titles in this league. We haven’t had the success that Hershey has had over the last few years here in Providence, so he brings a winning culture here, too.”
Besides bringing a winning culture to the P-Bruins, Chris Bourque also brings a world of pressure with him to Providence. After all, this is his first season in the same organization where his father played the bulk of his 1,612 NHL games and produced a majority of his all-time defenseman record of 1,579 career NHL points. So in addition to the usual challenges that he’s had to face by playing in his father’s shadow throughout his career, the pressures that Chris Bourque faces this season are increased, given that he’s now part of the same organization—and wearing the same uniform colors—that his father forged most of his Hall-of-Fame legacy in.
“He seems to handle everything real well,” said P-Bruins assistant coach Kevin Dean of Bourque. “He’s 7-8 years into his career now, so it’s not like he’s a rookie. But if this was the first organization that we was coming into after his father had just left three or four years before, I think it could be different. That could have been a tough haul for him.
“Everybody understands how good Ray Bourque was,” added Dean. “But I don’t think some people understand that he was one of the best at his position of all-time—maybe one of the best five. It’s hard to hold anybody up to that, whether it’s his son or the first overall draft pick in the 2012 Draft.”
While Chris Bourque has spent a lifetime in his father’s shadow, he isn’t alone in his burden. Although he’s never played in the Bruins organization, Chris Bourque’s younger brother, Ryan Bourque, is also continually subjected to comparisons to his father while playing for the New York Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the Connecticut Whale.
What’s more, Ryan Bourque, a second-year pro forward and 2009 Rangers draft pick, also has to follow in the footsteps of his much older brother—Chris Bourque is five years Ryan’s senior—who has been one of the AHL’s best forwards for the last half-decade.
“I want to see him do well,” said Chris Bourque of his younger brother. “We’re not like some brothers who want to go out there and beat the hell out of each other.
“He’s tough to play against,” added Chris Bourque about his brother. “He hounds the puck real well. I’d like to see him shoot a bit more, but I can’t imagine that it would be fun to play against him as a defenseman because he’s always the first one on the puck.”
For NHL fans, Ryan Bourque’s style as a 5-foot-8, 170-pound energizer bunny of a forward would seem slightly similar to Jason Blake. However, Ryan Bourque’s style as a small, but relentless puck hound of a forward is also similar to his brother, Chris, who at 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds is hardly a giant, either.
“You don’t see too many 5-foot-8 defensemen out there,” said Chris Bourque. “Because of our size, it was always easier for my brother and me to be forwards. Plus, we both always liked scoring goals more than stopping them.”
Although Chris Bourque admitted that both his brother and he have preferred being offensive players since their youth hockey years, the Bourque brothers are linked in that it’ll be their abilities to further develop their defensive games which determines if either will be able to have a successful NHL career.
Because despite Ryan Bourque’s improving offensive abilities—his five goals in 22 games this season are one shy of the six goals he had in 69 games as a rookie, last season— and propensity to forecheck like a cruise missile, the one major knock on him as a prospect is that he often loses out in one-on-one puck battles against larger opponents. And considering that Chris Bourque has only appeared in 33 NHL games despite combining for 395 career AHL points in 422 career AHL games, it’s pretty clear that his offensive abilities aren’t what’s keeping him from an NHL career, either.
“Chris doesn’t fit that mold of a typical 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3 bruising forward,” said Bruce Cassidy. But Brad Marchand has beaten the curve in that regard when it comes to typical Boston types of players. Bourquey can do that, too. He needs to show the management that he can do it. Everybody who wants to make that jump needs to round out their game.”
For Chris Bourque, his biggest obstacle is rounding out his game at an age—26—at which he’s considered more of a veteran AHL forward than an up-and-coming prospect. Additionally, with his style being more predicated on offense and the Boston Bruins bursting at the seams with top-six forwards, he’ll probably have to become defensively polished enough to play in more of a checking role on one of Boston’s bottom two lines in order to get a permanent NHL roster spot.
For Ryan Bourque, his challenge towards breaking into the Rangers’ lineup is similar. Because despite possessing NHL caliber offensive abilities—albeit still very raw offensive abilities—it’s pretty hard to be a top-six forward in a New York lineup which has Brad Richards, Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan cemented on its top two lines.
If Ryan Bourque has one advantage over his brother, it would be his age. At 21-years-old, Ryan Bourque has much more time than 26-year-old Chris to become a more complete player and re-cast the perception of him in the hockey world.
Although their age gap puts them at much different stages of their careers, the irony of the Bourque brothers’ shared circumstances is that their biggest perceived deficiencies are on the defensive side of the puck while their father won five Norris Trophies as the NHL’s best defenseman. Adding in the similar manner in which they’ll have to work out their defensive shortcomings to become full-time NHL players after having had to similarly pursue their entire hockey careers in their father’s shadow, it would seem as if the Bourque brothers are similar to each other in almost every way. At the very least, the Bourque brothers have a lot more in common with each other than they do with their father.
The old saying is “like father, like son.”
But in the case of the Bourques, maybe it should be “like brother, like brother?”
Photos by Getty Images
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|Last Updated on Friday, 21 December 2012 18:07|