, Salem, MA

September 28, 2012

Bourque brothers hope strong AHL showing will eventually lead to NHL callups

By Phil Stacey
Sports editor

---- — Ryan Bourque played what he figures will be his last round of golf this season, teeing it up with his father Ray and two friends at Salem Country Club this past Wednesday afternoon.

“It was a real good time,” said the 21-year-old Bourque, a 10-to-12 handicap on the links. “But now it’s time to focus all of my attention on hockey.”

His older brother, Chris, knows what his sibling is feeling. He feels it, too.

With the National Hockey League having locked out its players for the second time in nine seasons, the American Hockey League becomes even more fertile with veteran talent and propsects ready to showcase their skills. The Bourque brothers certainly fit into that mold; Ryan is back with the Connecticut Whale while Chris begins a new phase of his career with the Providence Bruins.

Training camp for the two Boxford residents begins this weekend. The P-Bruins start today with Chris as one of 19 forwards on the roster; Ryan is one of 23 forwards in the Whale’s camp, which starts Sunday.

“It’s really exciting. I’m hoping all the hard work I put in to get ready for this season is going to pay off,” said Chris Bourque, who led the AHL in scoring last season (93 points) with the Hershey (Penn.) Bears before being traded to the Bruins’ organization in late May.

“I’ve been down here (in Providence) skating with some of the guys the last few days and getting to know them, learning their tendencies and the new system I’m a part of. I can’t wait to get going.”

While they find themselves in different circumstances, the two siblings share the same professional goal: get to (and stick in) the NHL, either when the lockout ends or soon thereafter.

It’s hard to believe, but today starts the 26-year-old Chris Bourque’s eighth pro hockey season. The majority of that time was spent in the Washington Capitals’ organization (with short stints in Pittsburgh as well as Russia and Switzerland). He has played primarily in the AHL; just 33 of his 455 pro games have been at the NHL level — something he’d like to change.

“In the back of my mind, ever since I signed (a two-way contract with the Bruins), I’ve wanted to make the big team out of camp,” said the 5-foot-8, 180-pound winger. “I love Hershey, but it was time for me to move on and Boston gave me that chance by trading for me. Now it’s a clean slate and I’m very, very happy with the position I’m in.”

There seems to be a permanent job in Boston there for the taking on the team’s third line, something the one-time Boston University Terrier would love to fill.

“That’s the carrot at the end of the stick for me,” admitted Chris, who grew up with his family in Danvers. “I’m hoping all my hard work pays off and the lockout ends soon so I can go after it.”

Ryan, five years younger than Chris, is in a bit different scenario. Drafted in the third round by the New York Rangers in 2009, he played junior hockey in Quebec for two seasons before turning pro last year.

The 5-foot-9, 170-pound winger impressed the Rangers’ brass enough that he was brought to Europe on the team’s preseason trip and was one of the last cuts, spending his rookie season in the AHL with the Whale.

“It was a very valuable year in my development, I’d say,” said Ryan Bourque, who scored six goals and 14 points in 69 games in 2011-12. “Going to Europe with the Rangers was a great experience and gave me confidence in myself and my game. When I got to Connecticut, I just tried to listen to everyone and learn as much as I could about adapting to the pro game: the speed, the strength, how long it is, things like that.

“Now I’m ready to take the next step. My biggest goal is bringing a consistent effort every game, every practice, every skate. Bring energy to the rink, be a professional, and leave it all on the ice to be the best player I can be.”

The Bourques worked out and skated with many of their Boston-area brethren to prepare themselves for the upcoming season. Ryan successfully added more muscle to his frame without losing any of the speed that has made him a top prospect; he also worked tirelessly on his shooting, an element of his game he hasn’t always done enough of. (”I’m almost too nice at times, trying to be a playmaker all the time,” he said).

Chris Bourque, who figures to take on a leadership role for however long he is in Providence, also feels like he’s in excellent shape after a strong summer — highlighted by the birth of his and wife Kim’s first child, a boy named Kingston four-and-a-half months ago. He also kept up on the negotations between the NHL and the Player’s Association, staying in contact not only with his new Bruins teammates but also with close friends like Keith Yandle, a former Cushing Academy teammate and current Phoenix Coyotes defenseman.

“The last time the players were locked out, the AHL was a phenomenal league. This time it could be even better,” said Ryan Bourque. “But for me, my brother and all of us, the goal is to make it to the National League. I hope for Chris and I, all the work we put in and what we can show (in the AHL) pays off.”