After spending the last two seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program, Ryan Bourque’s game has grown since his days playing youth hockey. As he suits up for the program during his last dozen or so games, he’ll continue to cherish each moment. But it won’t stop him from looking forward with a sense of empowerment and a desire to write his own history.
Granted, this is the son of Hall of Fame defensemen Ray Bourque, so it shouldn’t be hard. Or should it?
It’s easy to get attention as the son of one of the best defensemen to play in the NHL. And Ryan appreciates that people take interest in his lineage, but doesn’t want people to get too caught up with his father’s past.
“The name is always going to be there and I’ve dealt with it my whole life,” Ryan said. “But honestly, my dad was a Hall of Fame defenseman. If I can accomplish half the things he accomplished in his career, I would be happy.”
Growing up with an all-star dad held allure. But hockey wasn’t Ryan’s destiny from the get-go. Ray didn’t push hockey on Ryan or his older brother Chris.
“It was our decision to play the game and he didn’t push us in any way,” Ryan said. “But once we really grew a love for the game, he was there to help out.”
That didn’t stop the two from playing in the backyard. Chris took a fond liking to the game a lot earlier than Ryan.
“Growing up as a kid, I really didn’t like hockey as my first sport until I was 11 or 12,” he said. “I was playing soccer and I kind of liked that. I guess it was because I was a little more successful in it.”
It wasn’t until Ryan’s second year in Denver (Ray was traded to the Avalanche the year before), that he started to become passionate for the game.
“My brother and I were there a couple times a week skating at the rink [with the Avs],” he explained. “Then we had our own teams. From there, I just started to skate more and grew a love for it.”
As his priorities shifted, Bourque took hockey head-on.
After his dad won the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche at the conclusion of the 2000-01 season, the light would dim on a lengthy and valiant career. But that didn’t stop Ray from being attached to the game and his kids on their terms.
“I didn’t really realize it then, but when he retired he became committed to us full-time,” Ryan said.
Ray coached Ryan through his Bantam and Peewee seasons. Then, when Ryan moved onto the Cushing Academy, Ray followed, joining on as an assistant coach.
“That was just awesome, as far as taking in all that information every day like a sponge,” Ryan added. “He was always out there on the ice helping me out and giving me pointers every day.”
After a successful sophomore season at Cushing, USA Hockey came calling. Bourque was invited to the NTDP’s tryout that off-season. Without hesitation, he jumped at the opportunity to make the prestigious program on his own merit.
“It was a real honor,” he said about getting the call. “But the thing is, I didn’t know where I stood leaving tryouts.”
Things got uncomfortably quiet. He waited to hear from the NTDP for what seemed like an eternity. But unknown to him, he made the program.
“I was waiting for the call for a couple of weeks,” he explained “But as it turned out, they actually called my home phone and the answering machine was broke. So, I didn’t get a call until a month later. And I was wondering what was going on.”
Fast-forward two seasons.
Back with the NTDP, Bourque has become one of the top players in the program. During his stay in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the forward has used his time to take his hockey knowledge and blended it with all the aspects – both on and off the ice – to help him become a complete player.
“It’s been awesome, both on and off the ice,” he said. “We’re working out pretty much twice a week. We have on-ice sessions every day and power skating. Just the overall experience, especially internationally and playing the college schedule. It’s been awesome.”
After putting up 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) in 68 games split between the Under-17 and Under-18 teams last season, Bourque is close to eclipsing that total this year with 41 points. While he definitely has a knack for creating offense, those chances wouldn’t come if he didn’t press and attack the opposition relentlessly.
“I like to be a little chippy and be a little pest to play against out there,” he admitted. “I know that my opponent will not like it that much if I’m making it tougher on them.”
And that, he does so well. If there is one thing you can count on — regardless of if he ends up on the scorer’s sheet — it’s that you’ll get every ounce out of Bourque every shift, every game, and at both ends of the ice.
With a couple games left in the Nseason and the IIHF Under-18 Championships around the corner in April, Bourque said he’s comfortable with his game and he’s not wearing down.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “It’s really about maintaining the shape I’m in and keeping in even better shape every day so I can play in all situations and be successful.”
With that approach, there’s no doubting he’ll finish off the year strong. But even with the appeal of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft as a carrot, he’s taking it one game at a time.
“I know it will be there, but I really don’t try to think about it that much, “ he admitted. “I’m really trying to focus on the games I have at hand. By focusing on that and playing my best here, hopefully it will help me out once I get to that stepping stone in Montreal.”
Sound familiar? A Bourque picking his spots and knowing when not to push. Regardless, the draft in Montreal will be special, but on his terms.
“It’s going to be awesome,” he said. “We’re all going to be there. Obviously both my dad and my brother have been drafted, but I’d like to think I’m my own person. Like, I’m just Ryan Bourque and the whole family will take it like it was their first time around and be happy for me.”