Bourque, hockey’s ‘Crash Davis,’ ap­pre­ci­ates AHL great­ness

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY STEPHEN WHYNO

Chris Bourque was a young man in a hurry.

A sec­ond-round pick who turned pro af­ter one year at Bos­ton Univer­sity, the el­dest son of Hockey Hall of Fame de­fence­man Ray Bourque piled up goals at the world ju­niors and looked to be on the path to NHL star­dom.

But the 5-foot-8 for­ward never could pro­duce in the top league in the world dur­ing stints with the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals, Pitts­burgh Pen­guins or Bos­ton Bru­ins, where his fa­ther thrived. Bourque has just two goals and six as­sists for eight points in 51 NHL games and hasn’t been up since 2013.

In the Amer­i­can Hockey League, how­ever, Bourque is like the “Bull Durham” char­ac­ter Crash Davis, a star on pace to be one of the all-time greats, get his jer­sey re­tired and make the Hall of Fame. With 213 goals and 402 as­sists in 626 games, he’s a point-a-game player for the Her­shey Bears, with two scor­ing ti­tles and three Calder Cup cham­pi­onship rings.

“You al­ways look at him and you think, ‘OK, he’s a bona fide NHLer. He’s got all th­ese points and he’s played 50 (NHL) games or what­ever, why is the next step pretty tough?”’ former Her­shey gen­eral man­ager Doug Yingst said. “Cer­tainly some of it has to do with size. He’s an in-be­tweener. He’s right there.”

Bourque, who ap­peared in his fifth AHL All-Star Game on Mon­day, has ex­plored ev­ery av­enue, ac­knowl­edg­ing when he first got to the mi­nors at 19 he was “try­ing to get to the NHL as fast as pos­si­ble.” Four points in his first 33 frus­trat­ing NHL games took him to Switzer­land and Rus­sia’s Kon­ti­nen­tal Hockey League, a dead-end jour­ney that made Bourque ap­pre­ci­ate the comforts of mi­nor pro hockey in North Amer­ica.

Re­turn­ing home to sign a deal worth $300,000 in the AHL with the Cap­i­tals, Bourque also mar­ried his long­time girl­friend in the sum­mer of 2011. The cou­ple now has two chil­dren, and former team­mate Bryan Helmer sees Bourque as a more ma­ture fam­ily man.

“You’ve got to grow up some­time and he ob­vi­ously has,” said Helmer, now the Bears’ vi­cepres­i­dent of hockey op­er­a­tions. “That’s why he’s ac­cepted that this is a great league.”

Re­moved from an 18-game stop with Bos­ton in 2013 and an­other voy­age to Europe, Bourque gets it. Now 31, he’s still 15th in the AHL in scor­ing and knows it’s a good league and a great way to make a liv­ing.

He hasn’t given up on get­ting back to the show.

“For ev­ery guy it’s the ul­ti­mate goal to play in the NHL, and I don’t think any­body re­ally gives up on that dream ‘til the day they re­tire,” Bourque said. “There’s al­ways a chance. It’s just about get­ting op­por­tu­nity, about (other play­ers) hav­ing in­juries and play­ing well and that kind of stuff needs to kind of hap­pen at the right time. I’m go­ing to keep grind­ing away and hope­fully I do get an­other op­por­tu­nity.”

Un­til that op­por­tu­nity comes, Bourque han­dles the bus rides and co­zier barns of the AHL like a vet­eran.

Helmer calls Bourque one of the hard­est work­ers in prac­tice who shows team­mates ev­ery day how to win, while Yingst as­serts he “can do things that other peo­ple can’t do” and might be the best power-play spe­cial­ist of this era.

“It’s just set­ting an ex­am­ple on how it’s done and how to be a good pro and how to have a long ca­reer,” Her­shey team­mate and fel­low All-Star Travis Boyd said. “Sure, he’s get­ting a lit­tle older, but he still comes out ev­ery day and I don’t think there’s a guy on the ice who wants to score more in prac­tice than he does.”

Bourque would love to score in the NHL like he has in the AHL. It would take the right set of cir­cum­stances, not to men­tion a big-minute skill role, for one last kick at the can.

“For some guys they get that right op­por­tu­nity at the right time and they cash in on it and they stay up for the rest of their ca­reers, and other guys just kind of wait for that op­por­tu­nity and it never comes,” Bourque said. “Luck has a lot to do with it, but be­ing at the right place at the right time has a lot to do with it. I’d like to think I would cash in on an op­por­tu­nity like that.”

AP PHOTO

This Septem­ber 2016 photo shows Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals for­ward Chris Bourque look­ing on dur­ing the first pe­riod of an NHL pre­sea­son hockey game against the Carolina Hur­ri­canes in Wash­ing­ton.

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