Capitals’ Bourque makes bid for an NHL berth

by Mike Vogel ||

Chris Bourque is not going to let two straight strong preseason showings give him a false sense of confidence or security. He knows he hasn’t really done anything yet, at least not anything on par with what he wants to do. For as long as he can remember, all Bourque has wanted to do is play hockey in the National Hockey League.

The son of Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Raymond Bourque, the younger Bourque grew up around the game and is now on the cusp of achieving his goal. But he knows he is not there yet. Two preseason efforts are just a start.

“Every time you go out there and put on this jersey,” says Bourque, “you want to put your best performance on. There are always guys looking whether it’s the GM or the scouts or the coaches. It doesn’t really matter. They all have their own viewpoints on how you play and they’re all getting together at the end [of camp]. So you’ve got to go out there and play good and play hard every time you’re out there.”

When the Caps drafted Bourque in the second round (33rd overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, some accused Washington of reaching with that pick. The NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau had ranked him 74th among all North American skaters in its final rankings of the 2004 draft class, but Bourque scoffed at that ranking then.

“I know I’m going to be under a microscope,” he said. “That central scouting list didn’t really bother me. If you come out and watch me play you’ll see that I should’ve been picked where I was or even higher.”

He has spent the last few years working on proving that. Days removed from his high school graduation when he was drafted, Bourque began his freshman year at Boston University in the fall of 2004. He played just one season there before turning pro in the spring of 2005.

Bourque showed a flair for the dramatic early in his career. He scored the overtime goal that won the 2005 Beanpot tournament for Boston U., and his first goal as a pro was an overtime game-winner for the AHL Portland Pirates in a game against Springfield.

That flair for the dramatic might well be a Bourque birthright.

The day before Bourque was born (Jan. 29, 1986), his father headed to Hartford with his Bruins teammates for the second of a home-and-home set with the Whalers. As soon as he arrived in Hartford, Ray Bourque received a call to come back to Boston, as his wife had gone into labor. Bourque dropped a couple hundred bucks on a cab ride, and arrived in time to welcome his son, who was born in the early morning hours of Jan. 29.

The great Bruins blueliner then got a ride back to Hartford with Boston general manager Harry Sinden, who had planned on driving down on game day. Bourque arrived in Hartford, and ended up scoring the game-winning goal in overtime on the same night Chris was born, as the B’s downed the Whalers 5-4.
Chris Bourque (left) has spent the last three seasons with Hershey of the American Hockey League, Washington’s top affiliate. Injuries marred his first season, and he totaled 36 points (eight goals, 28 assists) in just 52 games. He appeared in only one game during the postseason when Hershey won its ninth Calder Cup championship. But when you consider that he was just 19 years old – one of the youngest players in the league – when that season started, it was an impressive first full pro season.

He recorded 58 points (25 goals, 33 assists) in 2006-07 and 63 points (28 goals, 35 assists) last season. To Bourque’s way of thinking – and it’s hard to argue with him here – he has nothing left to prove at the AHL level after playing 207 games in that circuit.

“I come in here obviously trying to make the team and make a good impression,” he says. That’s all I can do. I’ve got to worry about what I can do and as for the rest, I have to make them make a tough decision. I’ve got to work hard and have some good exhibition games when I get a chance to be in there and show them what I can do.

“I feel like I’ve shown them what I can do at the American League level. I feel that I’ve done pretty much what they’ve asked me to do down there. All I want is a chance to show them that I can play here. I feel I can play here. It’s up to them to give me that chance and we’ll see where that takes me.”

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau urged Bourque to work on getting quicker, and the left wing took that advice to heart over the summer.

“I started working out with some new guy in Boston,” says Bourque. “This is the best I’ve felt since I turned pro. I feel like I leaned out and put on some more muscle. I feel really good right now, and I’m excited to see how this camp goes.”

Bourque is capable of playing center and left wing and can also play on both special teams. The added muscle and quickness certainly won’t hurt, either. And Bourque has one asset that can’t be developed: hockey sense. He grew up a rink rat, and he’s still a rink rat. When his day on the ice is done, he can often be seen peering through the glass, intently watching the other groups on the ice.

With so many proven forwards on the Washington depth chart, cracking the roster will be a tough task. If this year’s model of Chris Bourque were trying the crack the Caps’ roster of two or three seasons ago, he’d be a virtual lock for the top six and a good bit of power play time. But this year’s Caps are deep, especially up front.

Bourque has made the most of his two preseason opportunities, collecting a goal and an assist in each game. He notched the game-winner in his hometown of Boston in Saturday’s 4-3 Washington win over the Bruins.

“This is basically where I learned to skate, at the [Boston] Garden, in the other building,” he remarked after the game-winner in Boston. “This is my first game here in the NHL. It’s just a little bit weird, but it’s pretty exciting.

“I’m pretty happy with that. Coach Boudreau has put me out there in some good situations and I’m just trying to capitalize on it. Things are going pretty good so far, but I’ve still got a ways to go until the season starts.” bourque3_200.jpg

Even if he doesn’t make the opening night roster, Bourque is opening eyes and poising himself to be among the first players recalled during the season, as he was in 2007-08. Bourque made his NHL debut in November and got into four games last season. He got a taste, and now he believes he’s ready for more.

“It’s my fourth year,” declares Bourque. “I view it as a big year. I’ve been in the AHL for three years and I feel I’m ready for the next step. That’s what I’m trying to prove right now at training camp.

“Hopefully the coaches and all the staff are taking notice of that. But I’ve just got to worry about what I can control and that’s playing hard every game and every practice.

Boudreau is taking notice.

“I think A), he’s confident, B) he’s determined and C) he’s a little quicker,” says the Caps coach. ‘He came in [to camp] in the best shape of his life and it’s showing right now.”

Bourque also knows he has to keep his foot on the gas.

“Stay consistent,” he says, when asked what he needs to do to stay in the bigs. “That’s all I can do. Play well, play hard and smart. Just keep going here. I’ve got to do that every day.

"Tomorrow I’ve got to wake up and do the same thing in practice. I can’t take any days off, especially trying to fight for a job here. If I take a day off, then I’ll be back in Hershey. I’ve got to keep pushing myself, and hopefully things will happen.”