- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Chris Bourque knows all about pressure.
He's the son of Hall of Fame defenseman and Boston Bruins legend Ray Bourque. Chris Bourque turned pro at age 19, and the 26-year-old forward is still trying to prove he can play at the NHL level.
The Bruins were slated to begin the 2012-13 season Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, but due to the lockout, NHL rinks are dark as the league and the players' association continue to be at odds.
This October could have been the first time in more than a decade for a Bourque to wear a Bruins jersey, since Chris is now a member of the organization for which his father played from 1979 to 2000.
But this isn't about Ray Bourque. His career is over. This is about Chris Bourque. The Bruins acquired him from the Washington Capitals in exchange for forward Zach Hamill last May, and then Bourque signed a two-year, two-way NHL deal with Boston on June 1. He wants nothing more than to play for the Bruins and prove to people he can be a full-time player in the NHL.
"I pretty much grew up in the locker room," Bourque said. "I'd go there with my dad and skate on the ice all the time. I always dreamed about being a professional hockey player, and playing for the Bruins was also my other dream. To get an opportunity to do that is special for me and I've dreamt about pulling that sweater over my head. ... When the lockout ends if I get that opportunity it's definitely going to be a dream come true.
"I love the city of Boston. I love the Bruins and even when I wasn't in the organization they were still my favorite team. To be a part of this organization really means a lot to me. I'm very proud to be in this organization."
Bourque is playing for Boston's AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins. Wearing No. 17 for the P-Bruins, Bourque was one of the first players on the ice Thursday morning at the Dunkin' Donuts Center and was the last skater off the ice after a two-hour practice in preparation for the season-opener Friday night against the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings) in Providence.
After the Capitals traded him, Bourque knew he would be given every opportunity to make the Bruins out of training camp. The NHL lockout has ruined that chance for now, but he'll continue to hone his skills and make the best of this opportunity in Providence.
"We can't control that," he said of the lockout. "Guys down here, we have to focus on playing hockey for Providence and let that stuff take care of itself and hopefully a few of us get the opportunity to go up there and challenge for a roster spot, but right now we're worried about playing for Providence, winning games and playing the right type of hockey down here."
Bourque has experienced success in the AHL. He was a member of three Calder Cup championship teams with the Hershey Bears and has posted a total of 395 points in 398 career AHL games. Those are impressive numbers for the 5-foot-8, 180-pounder.
Given his family legacy with the Bruins organization, there's no doubt the Black and Gold would enjoy seeing another Bourque on the ice at the Garden. Former Bruin and current assistant general manager Don Sweeney was a longtime defensive partner of Ray Bourque. Sweeney remembers the days when Chris would run around the locker room and skate with some of the players after practice.
So with the chance that the Hall of Famer's son could soon wear the spoked-B once the NHL resumes play, it would be a special moment for the Bruins and the Bourque family.
"There's no question and I'll have a soft spot for it," Sweeney said.
Sweeney's message to all the young prospects in the organization is simple: He's told every kid who has come through Providence that the next step is to play in the National Hockey League and in a perfect world that means for the Boston Bruins.
Selfishly, Sweeney wants to see that happen for Chris Bourque.
"His hockey IQ and his passion for the game rank as high as I know in terms of players," Sweeney said. "The physical nature and the stature that he has, and the limitations sometimes that we all have as smaller players, you have to overcome that in order to carve out a niche. (Rookie center) Ryan Spooner will benefit from him being around. [Bourque's] won, he wants to win and he accepts the pressure being part of it.
"He's never known anything other than having 'Bourque' on the back of his sweater and he welcomes the fact he's still going to get people who will say, 'Well, you're not your dad.' It doesn't rub him the wrong way, it really doesn't. He has a chip about it because he wants to prove to be his own self."
P-Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy grew up a Bruins fan and two of his favorite players were Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque. Cassidy, 47, has watched Chris Bourque's development in the AHL when he was a member of the Hershey Bears. Now that he's a member of the P-Bruins, Cassidy admits it's pretty cool he's coaching a Hall of Famer's son.
"I'm sure I'll be nice to him so I can get his dad's autograph, maybe even hang out with him a little bit," Cassidy said with a laugh. "For me, to see the jersey 'Bourque' is neat. During the game, you coach the game, but I'm not going to lie to you, it's pretty cool. On the other hand it's like, 'Geez, the guy's a little older than me and he's got a son that old.' I guess I'm getting old, too.
"It'll be fun. He's won championships and he's a successful individual. The one thing left on Chris Bourque's résumé is being a full-time NHLer and I'd like to help him do that. If he can help us have success, and as a coaching staff if we can help him get where he wants to go then it's a win-win, right?"
After the Capitals selected him 33rd overall in the 2004 NHL entry draft, Bourque played only one season at Boston University in 2004-05 before turning pro and joining the Capitals' AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates, for the final six games of that season.
Washington moved its affiliate to Hershey the following season and suddenly Bourque had to learn what it was like to be a young pro hockey player living on his own and being away from his family for the first time in his life.
A lot has happened since those early days of his pro career. He's spent the majority of his six previous pro seasons with the Bears and has a total of 33 games of NHL experience (13 with the Capitals and 20 with the Pittsburgh Penguins). He spent the 2010-11 season playing eight games in the KHL before finishing that season with Lugano in the Swiss League.
He returned to North America, again signed a one-year contract with the Capitals and played the entire 2011-12 season in Hershey. He collected a career-high 27 goals and 66 assists for 93 points in 73 games for the Bears.
Then on May 26, the Bruins acquired Bourque from the Capitals in exchange for Hamill.
"It's been great," Bourque said. "Coming to camp and starting up is something that I was definitely looking forward to since I got traded here and signed here. The season starts [Friday] and it's something we've all been looking forward to and it's finally here and that's a good thing."
Even though there's a lockout, Bourque still feels like he's playing at home in Providence.
The P-Bruins were given last Sunday off, so Bourque went home and spent the day watching the New England Patriots with his family. Plus, he and his wife had their first child, a son, during the summer, so having the grandparents nearby also helps.
For all that he's experienced since leaving college, Bourque believes he's a better person both on and off the ice.
"I'm definitely older and more mature," Bourque said. "I feel like I've grown a lot since then as a player and as a person. In all aspects I've matured as a person and as a player and hopefully that will get me to the next level."
Of his 132 goals at the AHL level, 47 of them have come on the power play, including 14 last season for the Bears. When the Bruins acquired Bourque last spring, not only were they looking for a good player, the team also wanted someone with a dynamic ability on the power play.
"You'd like to kill two birds with one stone there," Sweeney said. "Clearly, it's an identifiable skill set that he brings is unique."
Bourque is already a veteran AHLer with a total of four trips (three wins) to the Calder Cup finals with Hershey. For the younger players on the P-Bruins, having Bourque around will help their development and maturity both on and off the ice.
During training camp Bourque has been on a line with Spooner. Bourque can help the first-year pro, as well as players like Carter Camper and Craig Cunningham, because they all can look at Bourque and realize that so-called undersized players can still have success if they're willing to put in the work.
"He is a very dynamic player," Cassidy said. "Obviously, I'm not going to sit here and say I don't want to put too much pressure on him because I just did with what I've said, but he's done it. It's not like this is new to him. Chris has done this and he knows how to do it, so it's second nature to him and he relishes it. He goes out early, he's talking and he's taking pride in it and that's what I hope rubs off."
Chris Bourque is here to make a name for himself. He's here to help the P-Bruins win. He's here to help develop some of the organization's young talent and he's here to hopefully help the Boston Bruins win once the lockout ends.
Chris Bourque is playing for Providence in hopes of actualizing his NHL dream.