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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #79: Ray Bourque

This week's news that Tom Brady will be finishing his storied career elsewhere has me thinking about Ray Bourque. Back in 1999 we experienced the jarring sight of our twenty-year local hero in an alien uniform. Of course, back then we sort of sent Ray to Denver with our collective passive blessing. The Bruins weren't going to win him a Cup, so we tacitly approved of his trade to the Avalanche, where he finally got his name on the most famous trophy in sports. It had been more than ten years since New England fans had celebrated a title team of our own, so we vicariously celebrated Bourque's personal achievement, even in that other uniform. A little pathetic, but we were desperate. So desperate that 20,000 of us showed up in Boston to celebrate a title for another team. Sigh. Tom's departure is different for a lot of reasons, but I suspect a lot of us will be watching Bucs games rooting for TB12 almost as much as for the Stidham-led Pats.

On just about every other NHL team, Ray Bourque would be the best defenseman in team history. Of course, on the Boston Bruins he ranks just below the best defenseman in league history, Bobby Orr. Bourque came to Boston as the eighth overall pick in the 1979 NHL draft, and promptly made the All-Star Game and was named rookie of the year, the first non-goaltender to achieve that in league history. Over the next 21 seasons in Boston, Bourque won the Norris trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL five times (with six second-place finishes). He led the Bruins to two Stanley Cup Finals, losing to the Edmonton juggernaut in both 1988 and 1990. He served as captain or co-captain of the Bruins for fifteen campaigns, and was a big part of the Bruins' 29 consecutive playoff-season streak, still a record in North American professional sports.

There are too many Bourque records to share here. He holds most of the career marks for defensemen in NHL history based on his excellence and longevity, and he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2004. He made the All-Star Game 19 times, and was MVP of the 1996 game. In 2001 he won that elusive Cup with Colorado, and retired a champion. Bourque was a mainstay of my sports childhood, having started with Boston when I was four and anchoring the blue line until I was almost 25. He was a constant and comforting presence we almost took for granted during the decades he prowled the ice at the Garden. After he left, it was glaringly obvious how much his leadership and ability had meant to the team. I think we're about to see that play out again in Boston sports. At least this time, we got to cheer for our hero and his trophy in the native laundry. Six times.

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