Mr. Bourque is going to Washington — intent on winning a job he's wanted since he was old enough to skate.
With four games of NHL experience already on his hockey resume, Chris Bourque is looking to considerably add to that total during the upcoming season. The 22-year-old Boxford resident is heading to the nation's capital in the next week or so in anticipation of the Washington Capitals training camp, which begins Sept. 20.
The speedy left winger is heading there with one goal in mind: Win a permanent job with the Capitals.
"I feel like I can compete in the NHL. It's up to me whether or not I can make that happen (in camp)," said Bourque, who has spent the last three seasons playing in Washington's American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa., where he had 28 goals and 63 points for the Bears last year.
"I don't want to go back to the AHL. No knock on Hershey, but that's not where I want to be. My main focus is on making the big team."
If offseason training and preparation were the lone determining factors in making the NHL, Bourque would be a shoo-in.
Taking what Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau said to him in his exit interview earlier this spring — get stronger and a little bit faster if you want to make it at the next level — to heart, Bourque began a new training program this summer. The core of it was working on his leg strength four days a week, all designed to get them stronger and his feet quicker.
He's also lost a little bit of weight (he played at around 180 pounds last winter), and is feeling stronger on the ice in general.
"There's been a lot of grinding and blood, sweat and tears, but I feel really good now," said the former Cushing Academy and Boston University star. "My legs have never been like this. I feel fresh out on the ice, and my wind is great. I feel really good about where I'm at."
Having someone close to him to bounce questions off of certainly doesn't hurt Bourque. Not when that person is one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history and a Hockey Hall of Famer, legendary Bruins captain Raymond Bourque — Chris' father.
"My dad and I have had that conversation over and over, about what I need to do to make it," the younger Bourque said. "He tries to help me get in the right mind frame, to have a healthy mind and go into camp with the right attitude. He's right when he tells me I'm the one who can control my own fate."
The 5-foot-8 Bourque, part of the Capitals' outstanding 2004 draft class that includes reigning NHL MVP Alexander Ovechkin, breakout defenseman Mike Green, steady rearguard Jeff Schultz and high end prospects such as Sami Lepisto and Andrew Gordon, did not participate in Washington's prospects game this summer — a sign that he's already been there, done that and there wasn't much he could gain from the experience any longer.
"I had already been around that environment," said Bourque, taken 33rd overall by the Caps in '04, "and it's not that I'm past that stage, but it's just that they didn't need me to go down that road again."
Bourque has put in the work in the offseason to get ready for camp. Now comes the second piece of the puzzle — doing whatever he needs to do to make sure he's on the Capitals' roster when they open the 2008-09 NHL season on Friday, Oct. 10, in Atlanta against the Thrashers. (Ironically, Bourque made his NHL debut last November against the Thrashers in Atlanta).
To achieve his goal, Bourque realizes he'll have to outplay and outwork several other forwards in the same mix as him. If you deduce that captain Chris Clark, Sergei Fedorov, Niklas Backstrom, Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov, Brooks Laich, Matt Bradley, Donald Brashear and Boyd Gordon are all locks to make the team, that's 11 forward spots already snapped up.
That means that just three spots up front — two of whom will be scratched each night — remain. Bourque will be battling guys such as Eric Fehr, David Steckel and Tomas Fleischmann, who have much more NHL experience than he, as well as fellow newcomers ready to make their own mark such as Gordon and Francois Bouchard.
"To win a job I've got to go in and play well right off the bat," Bourque acknowledged. "I have to keep my work ethic up, finish my checks, be responsible defensively, maybe score a goal or two in the (exhibition) games and get some points.
"Basically, I know I've got to go there and take someone's spot."
Having said that, Bourque is a realist, and knows the chance that he'll be sent back to Hershey — even if for only part of the season — is probably greater than his sticking in Washington. He acknowledges he'll do whatever he can to help the Bears if that is management's choice, and that he'll do whatever it takes to make it back to the NHL and fulfill his dream.
"I'll do anything I can to make the big club — even be a fighter," Bourque, who has one career fighting major in three pro seasons, joked. "I'd probably get beat up all the time, but I'd be happy if it was in the NHL."