Monday

Ray Bourque


From Eddie Shore to Bobby Orr to Zdeno Chara, the Boston Bruins have always had one of the NHL's top rearguards patrolling their blue line. And while no one will dispute Orr as the greatest defenseman ever, Ray Bourque is not far behind.

When asked which of the two defenseman he would want on the ice in the final minute of player, long time Boston coach/general manager Harry Sinden said "I'll take Orr if I'm down by a goal, but I'd take Bourque if I'm defending a one goal lead."

Though he too ranks as one of the greatest offensive defensemen ever, it was Bourque's defensive genius that set him aside from his peers. While his offensive game grabbed more headlines, Bourque's tremendous defensive instincts that rivaled anyone in the game's history. In a split second he could dissect the oncoming play and more often than not positioned himself perfectly to defend. Though not big, his incredible balance made him tough to play against. Therefore Bourque was not afraid to play the physical game when he had to.

Skating was the key to Bourque's game. Overshadowed by the puck rushing exploits of Orr and Paul Coffey, Bourque too could skate like the wind. More importantly, perhaps he was better than Orr, Coffey or just about any other defenseman in terms of lateral movement, balance and agility. He would often jump into the offense as a 4th forward, or breakout of his own zone to lead the attack.

More often than not he would use incredible passing skills to kick start the offense. Though he was often zeroed in on by opposing team forecheckers, Bourque was rarely rattled, and always made a great first pass out of the zone to headman the transition offense. He had that rare touch and vision of a creative center on the back end. He had the uncanny ability to control the play, both with and without the puck. He was extremely methodical in his approach as a hockeyist.

He had an arsenal of lethal shots to unleash on goalies. He could shoot as hard as practically anyone, but more often than not he changed his shot up in order to get the puck to the goal crease. No matter how closely he was checked from his point position or how crowded the shooting lanes were, Bourque seemingly always landed the puck on net. He would often stray from the point position and jump into the slot for dangerous scoring chances. He was so deadly accurate with the puck that he won or shared the all star game's shooting accuracy competition 8 times between the competition's inception in 1990 and 2001. And he shot often. Only Wayne Gretzky regularly finished ahead of Bourque as the season's shots on goal leader.

Perhaps the most complete defenseman this side of Doug Harvey, Bourque retired as the career leader in practically every offensive category for a defenseman. He retired with 410 goals and 1169 assists for 1579 points! These totals also rank him as the highest scoring player in Boston Bruins history. A quiet and humble person, he seemed happy to live in the shadows of Coffey and especially Orr.

Believe it or not, Ray Bourque was the 8th player chosen overall and the 4th defenseman in the 1979 NHL entry draft. He joined the Bruins directly, scoring a goal and an assist and being named first star in his very first NHL game. He set a NHL record (since surpassed) for first year blue liners with 65 points in 80 games, as well as recording a +52, earning him the Calder Trophy. He was also named to the NHL's First All Star team, the first of 18 All Star nods.

By 1983-84 Bourque became only the sixth defenseman in NHL history to score over 30 goals in a single season campaign. He also finished with 96 points. But it wasn't until 1986-87 that the annual all star was finally given recognition as the NHL's best defenseman. Too often overlooked because of Paul Coffey's high scoring totals in Edmonton, Bourque won his first of five Norris Trophies over the next seven years.

Wearing jersey number 7 through his first eight seasons with Boston, Bourque surrendered that number in December 1987 when the Bruins honoured Phil Esposito. At center ice in front of Esposito and the hockey world, Bourque unexpectedly removed his jersey to reveal a second Bruins' sweater - this one numbered 77. Esposito's 7 would be forever retired, while Bourque quickly established his own unique identity in Boston. It was perhaps Bourque's most indelible moment in Beantown.

Boston loves Ray Bourque, but not quite as much as Bourque loves Boston. He cultivated many relationships in his adopted town, and lives there in retirement. He only has one regret in Boston:

"That's probably my biggest regret, not winning a Cup in Boston. That, for me, was tough,” said Bourque to ESPN.com.

In 1987-88 the Bruins went to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in a decade. Though they were swept by the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers powerhouse, Bourque tied for 7th spot in playoff scoring with 21 points in 23 games. The Bruins went back to the Stanley Cup finals in 1989-90. The Bruins, huge underdogs, again lost to the Oilers in the finals.

Bourque continued his excellent play throughout the 1990s, even though the Bruins began a slow and steady decline. Bourque never complained, and continued to be the NHL's best example of elite consistency and proficiency.

Late in his career, the long time Bruins captain made the tough decision to leave his beloved Bruins in search for the Stanley Cup. He agreed to a trade that landed him in Colorado. He would play parts of two seasons with the Avalanche, retiring in 2001 after hoisting the silver chalice above his head.

10 comments:

Ravenswing,  9:32 AM  

Ray Bourque might not have been the best player to pull on a Bruins' sweater ... but in the eyes of this fan who's seen them all, from Boivin to Bucyk, Cheevers to Thomas, Orr, Espo, Neely and the lot, he is the greatest. Ray's the one I'd parade before every rookie and ask the newbie, "Think you're man enough to wear the same colors he wore?"

BostonGuy,  4:06 PM  

I have no idea how old these other comments are, but I came across this page and felt I had to leave a thought.

As a true homer, I root for all Boston teams and players. And I hate it when players I like go off to another team, but when Bourque went off to Colorado for what we all knew was his only shot at the Cup, I was so damn happy for him.

After he won, he brought the Cup to Boston and the city threw him a party just like it was won with the B's.

I honestly can't think of another player in the history of any game who would have done this and who would have made me and almost everyone else feel the way he did when he did.

He maybe can't compare with Gretzky, Orr, Howe or Lemieux in raw talent or statistics, but he surpassed the all at connecting with fans.

Anonymous,  12:01 PM  

Actually, I'm inclined to say that Ray Bourque is a better defenseman than Bobby Orr.

Don't get me wrong, but Bobby Orr, along with Doug Harvey, was probably the most influential/important defenseman, for their revolutionary offensive blueline play, something totally new to the league. Remarkably, they were still defensively sound.

Still, as you indicated earlier, Bourque was better defensively.

Statistically, when Orr led the Bruins to the Cup in 1970 and 72, the team never finished first for Goals Against. In fact, the Rangers and Blackhawks not only had lower GAs, but higher GF/GA ratios. By contrast, when the Bourque led the Bruins to the finals in 1988 and 1990, they finished third and first respectively for GA. Sure, Bourque's team GA often fluctuated, but that often had to do with changes to his main supporting cast over his 20-year tenure in Boston. Orr, by contrast, mostly due to his shorter tenure, kept most of his supporting cast during that tenure, and their GA didn't fluctuate greatly.

Nevertheless, both Orr and Bourque were among the greats of all time. Orr got the recognition due to his revolutionary and electrifying play, which won him two Cups. Bourque was the more solid (and more low-key) player, a better overall player in the long run. Had he led Boston to one or two Cup victories, he just might have knocked Orr off his perch.

Hall Of Famer 9:16 AM  

I don't support Boston myself but I do believe that Ray Bourque is almost the best Boston player ever to grace the ice (after Bobby Orr of course). Ray Bourque was lucky as he came into hockey after Orr's reign which gave him the space to become a new Bruins star which I think most people haven't notced.

CONFUSED,  7:01 PM  

He was the Captain of the Bruins,& went to management and asked to be traded to a team in contetion to win the Cup!Thats like a cruise ship sinking,and the Captain jumping in a life raft and saying I'm outta here!HELLO PEOPLE,He left during the regular season!
Thats some Leader.Then he comes back to Boston with the Cup,"SEE WHAT I'VE GOT!"

Anonymous,  1:56 PM  

Ray Bourque was probably the third best defenseman of all time, behind Orr and Potvin. Excellent all around defenseman. However, Bobby Orr was in a class by himself. Unparalleled offensively and for his ability to control or take over a game, and underrated defensively and for his toughness simply because his offensive gifts were so outstanding. I rate Potvin as a better all around defenseman as well. Potvin had a better shot, was a better passer, and was as tough and mean a checker as there was. As outstanding as Bourque was, he was still a notch below these other two.

Anonymous,  3:09 PM  

Gotta be kidding me with that last comment by anonymous top 3 defensemen of all time.

Orr, Bourque, Lidstrom end of story

Mr. Armstrong 6:24 PM  

The fact everyone states Bourque is either 1, 2 or 3 all time still makes him undeniable very talented. I felt very fortunate I was able to watch him play. I do believe he was robbed of at least one more Norris trophy.

Anonymous,  7:12 AM  

Raymond J. Bourque is my all time favorite player not all because of his HOF skills, but the HOF person he is. I openly admit even to this day having a good man cry when I watch the end of that Game 7. I have never been so happy for a person to win a championship ever. I keep a framed photo of Ray hoisting Lord Stanley on my wall to remind me of that happy night.

Prof P J G,  3:37 AM  

Raymond Bourque happened to be on the same squad as I was decades ago at Henri Richard's Ecole (school) d' Hockey, and he was very young. That was a superb summer hockey school for many years in the Laval section of Montreal. One day, pro player & school Coach Joclyn Gouvermont, came in to ask him (in front of everyone) if he was interested in playing for the Junior Canadiens. There was a hush in that old locker room, and after a moment of pause he stunned everyone by saying "No, I have to finish school first." Everyone was throwing balls of hockey tape at him, telling him he was crazy, but he was kept in contact, probably by Henri Richard who remains as one of the very most inspirational hockey players and human beings to ever put on skates...
From an almost 60-y.o. still active goaltender who wears the same (modified) cup ! <--the one cup that is more important than even the Stanley Cup !
Health Educ Prof P J G Brooklyn NYC

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