“On the same night the Canucks advanced to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 17 years, it wasn’t lost on Burrows that something special was going on. Not only did he open the scoring, longtime teammates Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa also scored to give the franchise another shot at its first championship. The very nature of Bieksa’s double-overtime winner — a weird bounce off the stanchion, a rolling puck to Bieksa and an awkward bouncing slapper that skipped by a startled Antti Niemi — made Burrows wonder if his buddy had a hand in it all and was laughing from above.”
UMM EVERY PARAGRAPH IN THIS ARTICLE IS WORTH BLOGGING. CAN EVERYONE PLEASE READ THIS ARTICLE, ITS ACTUALLY PROBABLY THE BEST BOURDON ARTICLE I HAVE READ.
Alex Burrows #14 of the Vancouver Canucks carries the puck during a practice session the day before the opening game of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at the Rogers Arena on May 31, 2011 in Vancouver, Canada.
Photograph by: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
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VANCOUVER — “Do It For Luc.”
The television camera caught a brief glimpse of the sign, but the message was lasting. The Vancouver Canucks lost a budding blue-liner with the tragic death of Luc Bourdon in a May 29, 2008, motorcycle accident, but gained a new appreciation for their lives that are graced with good fortune, family and friends. Alex Burrows thinks about his fallen friend during every game-night anthem and those goal-celebration arrows he launches into the upper deck are in Bourdon’s honour.
With their former teammate now inducted in the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame, it was a sombre reminder of what could have been for the 21-year-old and what it would mean to win it all in his honour. The prospect even got to always-jovial associate coach Rick Bowness. So did that sign.
“It brought a tear to my eye,” said Bowness. “Luc was a wonderful kid. Rollie (Melanson, the Canucks’ goalie coach) and I are from the Maritimes and we understand his upbringing in the neighbourhood and the tight family atmosphere. It showed itself. A wonderful character kid with a tremendous work ethic. Would he have been good enough to play on this team today? In my estimation, definitely. He had made huge strides.
“He was growing up as a man and as a hockey player.”
It was the kid in Bourdon, howe“Do It For Luc.”ver, that endeared him to his teammates. The 10th player picked in the 2005 NHL entry draft almost cracked the Canucks’ roster at his first camp and always cracked up his peers. There was no attitude in Bourdon. There was a genuine appreciation for his God-given talent because his zest for life went well beyond the bounds of the regimen of being a professional hockey player. And that’s what struck a chord with Burrows. Yes, they were both French, but New Brunswick and Quebec can be worlds apart in culture and the trappings of fleeting fame.
“It was just his joy for life,” said Burrows. “He was always happy coming to the rink — a little clueless sometimes — but he was contagious. He would just go out there and have fun and work hard and not really realizing there is a lot of pressure surrounding an NHL team. He was fun to hang out with a lot of fun to crack jokes with.
“He didn’t try to be somebody else. He was just himself.”
On the same night the Canucks advanced to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 17 years, it wasn’t lost on Burrows that something special was going on. Not only did he open the scoring, longtime teammates Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa also scored to give the franchise another shot at its first championship. The very nature of Bieksa’s double-overtime winner — a weird bounce off the stanchion, a rolling puck to Bieksa and an awkward bouncing slapper that skipped by a startled Antti Niemi — made Burrows wonder if his buddy had a hand in it all and was laughing from above.
“I don’t know if he helped out, but that was a nice bounce we got there,” chuckled Burrows. “He meant a lot to me and I’m very close to his girlfriend (Charlene Ward) and that’s never going to change. You realize how important this time of year is as a player, but when you look at the bigger picture, you realize how fragile life can be and you’re grateful for everything.
“Healthy baby and healthy wife and great family and friends. I’ve learned lot with Luc’s accident.”
It was a four-way friendship that made the accident so tragic and the bonds so lasting. Bourdon and Ward along with Burrows and wife Nancy Roy were in constant communication during the hockey season and it’s that way to this very day with Burrows and Roy, mother to daughter Victoria. Ward just completed her third year of pre-med studies and has used Bourdon’s legacy and her friendship with Burrows and Roy as source of inspiration.
“Nancy and Charlene send text messages to each other every day and they talk a lot — that’s how I’ve been able to touch base with it,” said Burrows. “I’m sure we’ll get together in the summer and see Charlene. She’s doing a good job.”
That’s an understatement. Losing Bourdon and deciding to pursue a career medicine rather than retreat in the darkness of despair is remarkable. If the Canucks can win a Stanley Cup for Bourdon, why can’t Ward do something special in Bourdon’s honour? Not that it’s easy.
“Well, to be honest, some days I tell myself it’s the best thing I could have ever done because it keeps me focused on something,” said Ward. “But other days, I’m like: ’Why the hell did I start it?’ I have hard days, but Alex and Nancy are behind me. They both tell me not to give up and they always tell me they know what Luc would want — to be doing what I’m doing.
“And when I’m having a bad day, I think of Luc and that and just try to hold on to it.”
The Luc Bourdon Wall of Dreams in the concourse of Rogers Arena helps keep the spirit alive. Bourdon was bound to make his mark after capturing gold with Team Canada at the 2006 IIHF world junior tournament in Vancouver, where he led all defencemen with six points in six games. But he did it in other ways, too.
It was the $10,000 Bourdon anonymously donated after signing his first pro contract that spoke of his values. Bourdon didn’t want anyone to know he was trying to help buy hockey equipment for families back home who couldn’t afford it. That was revealed upon his death when Bourdon’s former bantam coach, Gilles Cormier, wanted everyone to know what he meant to the people of Shippagan, N.B. A trophy has also been named in Bourdon’s honour to recognize amateur hockey excellence in New Brunswick, and there’s an annual provincial scholarship awarded in Manitoba, where Bourdon first made his professional mark with the Moose.
Bourdon wasn’t just in the same draft class as junior teammate Kristopher Letang — selected 62nd overall by Pittsburgh — the impact of the friendship was felt at the funeral when the Penguins defenceman was at the grave site rather than Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final.
“You look at the guys in his class, guys like Letang and Marc Staal who are top two defencemen on their teams, and I though Luc was better than them,” said Burrows. “I like our defence now, but Luc would have been a great asset.”
Bourdon had two goals in 36 games with the Canucks and six goals in 41 games with the Moose, but his lasting impact will be with those he crossed during his brief hockey path. There was the way he played jokes, recited favourite lines from comedies and entertained with the guitar.
“He was still a kid and that kid humour was refreshing to be around,” said Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa. “He was one of the best at quoting lines from movies like Nacho Libre and I specifically remember going into those gag stores with him.
“He was untapped potential. Nobody knew how good he could be and we definitely know he’s watching down on us and is proud of us. To win it for Luc would be nice. He still has a legacy with this team.”
As Bourdon began to emerge from his shell, the outside world started to see what the guys in the room saw all along. Cory Schneider played in Manitoba with Bourdon and witnessed the initial shyness replaced by a wide-eyed kid who had the world at his feet.
“You really didn’t get a full picture of him at the rink,” said Schneider. “He had a lot of hobbies, including music and he had a passion for cars. It was a real sad day when he died because it was the first time a person of my age was lost in that way. He had life in the palm of his hand and it all ended real quick.
“It’s tragic to have it cut short like that.”
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