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Thursday, October 4, 2001
Bourque delivers in Boston one last time

By Wayne Drehs

BOSTON -- Raymond J. Bourque Day in this city started out with what has become the normal routine for the now-retired NHL defenseman. He woke up, drove his 10-year-old son Ryan to school, and on the way home stopped at Dunkin Donuts for coffee and muffins.

Ray Bourque
Former Bruin Phil Esposito returned the favor Thursday, giving back the black and gold sweater to Ray Bourque before it was raised into the rafters.

But that's where the routine changed. On this day, there would be extra coffee. Strong coffee. Ray Bourque, you see, was never someone who relished the spotlight. He was never someone who played hockey for the notoriety, the money or the attention. Rarely ever rude, his answers to media questions were often simple and concise.

But on this day, anything but simple and concise would do.

Bourque was having his No. 77 retired by the Boston Bruins, a franchise for which he dedicated his blood, sweat and determination for 20 years. The last day Bourque pulled the black and gold sweater over his head was March 4, 2000. Two days later, then-general manager Harry Sinden fulfilled the captain's request to be traded to a contender. Last June, Bourque won his first Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche.

But on this day, Bourque returned to the city where it all began. Where as a baby-faced 18-year-old in 1979, he was given a chance to replace legend Bobby Orr. On Thursday night -- 1,826 games, 451 goals, 1308 assists and 1,759 points later -- he was back. And for the first time since he left the Bruins, he pulled the white jersey with black and gold trim over his pristine white dress shirt one last time.

"I had a few bumps out there tonight and that was one of them where the emotions got running, Bourque said. "I wore that jersey with such pride. And it felt great to get it back on."

Bourque in Beantown
  • Played with 286 teammates in Boston, which represents 38.3 percent of the 747 players who played for the franchise since its inception in 1924-25.
  • Assisted on 103 of Cam Neely's 344 career goals as a Bruin (29.9 percent)
  • In 20 seasons, missed only 131 of a possible 1,649 games (8 percent) due to injury.
  • Recorded points in 972 of 1,518 games played (64 percent). His longest stretch without a point? Ten games, from Jan. 11-31, 2000.
  • Most frequent targets, aside from 14 empty netters, were goalies Clint Malarchuk, Greg Millen, Tom Barrasso and Patrick Roy, all of whom yielded 12 goals to Bourque.
  • Favorite team target was the Hartford/Carolina franchise. He scored 37 goals and 108 assists for 145 points in 124 games, more than any other NHL franchise.
    -- Wayne Drehs
  • On this night, Bourque was the lone man in the spotlight and was expected to thrive in it. And like so many times before in this hockey haven of a city, Bourque delivered. Touching on various "snapshots" throughout his career, Bourque energized a standing room only FleetCenter crowd for 15 minutes, admittedly the longest he's ever spoken at one time in his life.

    "Ask my wife," Bourque said. "She'll tell you. But those were all things I wanted to say. It was from the heart, something I spent a lot of time preparing and really wanted to do a good job."

    Imagine that. Ray Bourque spending time preparing. Ray Bourque committed to doing a good job. Ray Bourque focused. Ray Bourque driven.

    It was only fitting that legendary Bruin Phil Esposito brought the jersey to Bourque. It was during the retiring of Esposito's No. 7 jersey 14 years ago when Bourque, who then wore No. 7, skated to center ice and literally gave Esposito the jersey off his back. The number that Bourque unveiled underneath? 77. Now, they will both hang in the FleetCenter rafters together.

    "I told him, 'I'm giving this back to you,'" Esposito said afterwards of the symbolic gesture. "'It looks good on you.'"

    A year and a half ago, when Bourque left Boston in search of a Cup, it was reminiscent of a tightly knit, small-town family sending its oldest off to the big city to chase his dreams. The family whole-heartedly understood. So when he asked Sinden to allow him to take his leave, few complained.

    They cheered, laughed and cried for Bourque when he won his Cup last summer, with 15,000-plus showing up in front of City Hall in Boston for Bourque just days after he won it. During a video tribute on Thursday night, the loudest applause didn't come on replays of Bourque's first goal, 400th goal, or 1,000th assist, but rather a freeze-frame of Bourque in a black T-shirt, holding the Cup above his head.

    Though the video tribute was numbing, Bourque said there was one clip noticeably missing.

    "I did not win a Stanley Cup here, in Boston," Bourque said. "And that is one thing that in a way is very disappointing for me. Winning one here would have been real special. I'm glad I experienced it, but I could just imagine the fun we would have had here."

    Instead, Thursday's celebration would have to make due. In addition to the symbolic tribute by Esposito, Bourque was toasted by a host of individuals, including NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Bruins GM Mike O'Connell and former teammates Don Sweeney and Terry O'Reilly.

    "Playing with Ray was an absolute honor," O'Reilly said. "I know I can speak for any player that had the pleasure of playing with him and any coach that had the pleasure of coaching him that he was the best leader and the best captain anybody had coached. I know I can speak for everyone in this building when I say that I had tears of joy when I saw Ray lift the Stanley Cup over his head."

    Prior to the ceremony, the city of Boston announced that Causeway Street, which runs along the south end of the FleetCenter, will now be known as Ray Bourque Way. The city also announced that Oct. 4, 2001 would be Raymond J. Bourque day in the city. Later, the FleetCenter gave Bourque a custom snowmobile; the NHL a hockey stick dipped in silver; the Bruins a grandfather clock.

    But the best moment of all, Bourque said, was watching his number being lifted to the rafters among the likes of Eddie Shore (No. 2), Lionel Hitchman (No. 3), Orr (No. 4), Dit Clapper (No. 5), Esposito (No. 7), John Bucyk (No. 9) and Milt Schmidt (No. 15).

    "It still hasn't hit me," Bourque said minutes later. "Until I come back to this place and look up there and see it, I don't think it will sink in. But you can believe I'll get a good look at it during the game tonight."

    In a matter of about 50 minutes Thursday, the ceremonies, applause, pictures and interviews were all finished. Bourque, standing in a cramped hallway with his wife Christiane, leaned forward, bent his arms and slipped off the Bruins jersey, careful to not mess his perfectly sculpted hair.

    He handed the jersey to a nearby security officer, instructing him to put it in the back seat of his limo. Then suddenly, the arena above exploded in cheers. The stadium foghorn erupted, signaling a Bruin goal had been scored.

    And just like a little kid, Bourque's ears turned to the noise. A small smile crept across his face.

    Once a Bruin, always a Bruin.

    Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at He can be reached at