Ray Bourque was a defenseman in the NHL for 22 seasons.
During his career, Bourque was the backbone of his Boston Bruins teams and would eventually become the league’s all-time leader in several categories.
In addition to his play in the NHL, Bourque also represented Team Canada in several international matches.
However, as his career was winding down, Bourque was missing one final piece in his legacy.
Despite having played on many talented Bruins teams, he had never won a Stanley Cup.
— Boston Diehards (@Boston_Diehards) March 5, 2018
Bourque finally fulfilled his dream during his final season.
This is the story of Ray Bourque.
Fast Rise Through the Junior Hockey Ranks
Raymond Jean Bourque was born on December 28, 1960, in Saint-Laurent, Quebec, Canada.
He was in the early stages of his youth hockey development when his mother died of cancer when Bourque was only 12.
A few years after the devastating loss of his mother, Bourque had risen high in the ranks of Canadian junior hockey.
In 1976, he was drafted by the Trois-Rivières Draveurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Exactly one year ago today, Ray Bourque was named the #NHLAlumni Association’s 2019 Keith Magnuson ‘Man of the Year’. 🏆 Let’s take a look back at @RayBourque77's remarkable career…#HonourThePast pic.twitter.com/f7vS0k5Eow
— NHL Alumni (@NHLAlumni) October 21, 2020
Bourque had 20 assists and 23 total points with the Draveurs before he was traded mid-season to the Sorel Éperviers (Black Hawks).
In the remaining games that season, Bourque developed quickly and scored nine goals along with 16 assists.
Before the 1977–78 season, the Black Hawks moved to Verdun, Canada.
Bourque wowed teammates and fans when he had 79 points including 57 assists in ’77–78 and then a jaw-dropping 71 assists in 1978–79 on his way to 93 total points.
By the end of the year, NHL scouts knew very well who Bourque was and salivated over the prospect of adding him to their team.
Bourque Becomes a Bruin
When draft day arrived in 1979, Harry Sinden, the general manager of the Boston Bruins was torn.
Sinden really liked Bourque, but his scouts liked a different defenseman named Keith Brown.
As their draft position got closer, Sinden issued a challenge to those in the draft room.
“I said, ‘I’ve never seen Brown play, and I’ve seen Bourque play, so if you decide to take Brown, it better work, because I know how good Bourque is,'” Sinden said.
Thankfully, any animosity the scouts may have had toward Sinden’s hot take was quelled when the Chicago Blackhawks selected Brown one spot ahead of Boston.
The Bruins then added Bourque with the 8th overall selection of the 1979 draft.
Sinden hoped that Bourque could help Boston get over the Stanley Cup drought they were experiencing.
After raising the cup a few times during the Original Six years, the Bruins had last won it all after the 1971–72 season.
There were close calls in 1974, 1977, and 1978 with Boston losing in the Cup finals each year.
The season before Bourque arrived, the Bruins had lost in seven games to the Montreal Canadiens in the 1979 Semifinals.
With Bourque on board, Sinden believed Boston would get over the hump.
Bourque Blasts Off
During Bourque’s rookie year in 1979–80, the Bruins returned to the postseason but lost in five games to the New York Islanders in the Quarterfinals.
Bourque, on the other hand, showed why he was the eighth overall selection.
In the first game of the season against Winnipeg, Bourque scored his first career goal.
By the end of the season, he had tallied 65 total points (a record at the time for a rookie defenseman) and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year.
For the 1980 Calder Trophy voting, apparently some writers either abstained out of protest for Gretzky being ineligible, or just wrote in “Gretzky”. Whatever, the actual winner is RAY BOURQUE, who became the highest-scoring rookie D to date. How did he fall to 8th in the draft? pic.twitter.com/m1ivXS13ED
— 1982 Oilers Day by Day (@OilersDayByDay) June 6, 2020
He was also selected as a first-team All-Star.
That marked the first time a non-goalie received both honors.
For the next several years, the Bruins did well during the regular season only to fizzle in the playoffs.
After the 1982-83 season, Boston advanced as far as the Conference Finals before losing to the Islanders in six games.
Bourque was consistent each year, hovering near 60 points on average and accumulating 73 points during the ’82–83 season.
He also developed a reputation for never doing anything halfway.
“It was never being satisfied, regardless of how things were going, and looking for perfection on a daily basis,” Bourque said in 2021. “Knowing that you’ll never reach it made me a very consistent player and allowed me, year in, year out, to always stay hungry to try to be the best you can be.”
Bourque reached new heights in 1983–84 when he scored a career-best 31 goals along with 65 assists to finish the year with 96 total points, also a career-best.
Tune in to NESN tonight at 6pm to catch Charlie Moore hangout with Bruins great Ray Bourque! 🎣 🐻 🏒
— Charlie Moore Shop (@charliemooretv) October 10, 2020
His monster year was squandered by the Bruins in the postseason when the Canadiens swept Boston in the Semifinals.
When he wasn’t playing for Boston, Bourque found time to represent Team Canada in the Canadian Cup in 1981, 1984, and 1987.
After the 1983–84 season, Bourque established himself as one of the top defensemen in the game as he continued to pile up points.
Between the 1984–85 and 1987–88 seasons, Bourque had no fewer than 77 points while accumulating as many as 95 points during that span.
In 1985, the Bruins voted Bourque and winger Rick Middleton as co-captains.
Bruins legends Ray Bourque and Rick Middleton meeting with local youth hockey players in a moment they will never forget. Pure Class!! @NHLBruinsAlumni @LightFoundation @susielight72 @FPCoverage @FPC_Bruins @FPC_Patriots @thesfldtimesri pic.twitter.com/p1g68LHR7W
— Mike D'Abate (@mdabateNFL) March 23, 2019
Three years later, Middleton retired and Bourque became Boston’s sole captain.
Boston Comes Up Short
At long last, Bourque and his Bruins’ mates found their way to the Stanley Cup finals.
Bourque paced the team by winning the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman after the 1986–87 and 1987–88 seasons, piling up 95 and 81 points, respectively.
Then, during the ’87–88 season, the franchise won 44 games and eliminated Buffalo, Montreal, and New Jersey in the first three rounds of the postseason.
Boston faced the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals and could only watch in horror as Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Grant Fuhr blanked them four games to none.
— The Hockey Samurai 侍 (@hockey_samurai) July 14, 2021
Two years later, Bourque won his third Norris Trophy, and the Bruins won 46 games in the 1989–90 regular season.
Boston then bounced Hartford, Montreal, and the Washington Capitals in the playoffs.
Their Stanley Cup opponents were Gretzky and his Oilers, who were well on their way to a dynasty.
This time, Boston lost Game 1 in three overtimes and was able to steal a Game 3 victory.
However, they were still defeated in five games.
“In ’90, we had a really good shot,” Bourque said. “I thought we matched up a lot better than we did the first time we played Edmonton. It was very disappointing that we didn’t find a way to do better. To just win one game, it was very frustrating, because I thought we came out, played really well in that first game and lost in triple OT.”
Bourque Begins to Lose Hope
After the 1990–91 and 1993–94 seasons, Bourque won his fourth and fifth Norris Trophies.
The ’93–94 season also happened to be the 11th time Bourque was selected as a first-team All-Star.
Despite having one of the best players in the NHL, Boston couldn’t get past the surging Pittsburgh Penguins in the ’90–91 and ’91–92 Conference Finals.
Cool picture of Mr Aeroflex Réjean Lemelin, Ray Bourque, and Cam Neely. Réjean is wearing his 2nd generation Aeroflex pads, glove and blocker. Enjoy! 👍 #aeroflex #aeroflexpad #vintagegoalie #goalie @VintageGoalie @GoalieHistory @GoalieGearNerd @EssensasBlocker @Tendy_Gear pic.twitter.com/zhNuQUxfHB
— aeroflexgoalie (@aeroflexgoalie) October 18, 2020
The next seven years were further unkind to Boston as the Bruins failed to advance past the second round and even missed the postseason in 1997 for the first time since the 1960s.
In 1999–2000, Bourque was feeling his 39 years and realized his opportunity to win an NHL title was rapidly declining.
As much as he loved Boston and his Bruins teammates, Bourque was honest with himself.
If he wanted to lift the cup before he retired, he would have to move on.
Trade to the Avalanche
Bourque played most of the 1999–2000 season with the Bruins before requesting a trade to a contender.
Although they wanted to keep him, Bruins management knew they were doing the right thing in letting go of their longtime defenseman.
At that point, Bourque had been Boston’s captain for so long that he was the longest-tenured captain in NHL history.
He could have left the Bruins several times but opted to stay, even for less money.
“Ray stayed when everyone said, ‘Go! You can make more money!'” television analyst Peter McNab said. “Remember, Ray could have been a free agent at least three times. No restrictions, he could have gone anywhere he wanted. He took less money to stay in Boston. He took heat from the Players Association, and it was always, ‘I love the city, I love the fans, this is what I’m going to do and this is where I’m going to win.’”
On March 6, 2000, Bourque said goodbye to his Boston teammates and signed with the Colorado Avalanche.
“Why now? Well, two reasons. One: I asked to be traded because I want to win a Cup. It’s the one thing I haven’t accomplished in my career,” Bourque told the media after the trade was announced. “And two: At this point in time, I needed a change. I want to find out what’s left to Ray Bourque.”
Colorado was only too happy to add a proven defenseman.
On March 6, 2000, the Avalanche acquired Ray Bourque, along with Dave Andreychuk, from the Boston Bruins.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) March 6, 2021
Unfortunately, not even Ray Bourque could help the Avalanche get past the Dallas Stars in the Conference Finals.
One Last Chance
Even with the heartbreaking loss in seven games to the Stars, Bourque knew Colorado was on the cusp of a championship.
He returned for a final season in 2000–01 and ended the year with 59 points and a second-place finish in Norris Trophy voting.
Colorado won 52 games and defeated Vancouver, the LA Kings, and St. Louis by a combined 12 games to four in the playoffs.
Patrick Roy, Peter Forsberg, Ray Bourque, 2001 pic.twitter.com/a3e30CEfTB
— Adrian Dater (@adater) July 21, 2020
The Avalanche then met the defending champion New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup.
Colorado hammered the Devils in Game 1, 5-0 before losing Game 2.
Bourque scored the go-ahead goal in Game 3 that led to a 3-1 Avalanche win.
That made him the oldest player in league history (40 years) to score in a Cup final game.
New Jersey won the next two games, including Game 5 in Colorado.
At that point, Bourque spoke up, explaining to his teammates what was needed for Games 6 and 7.
“The guys were really down on themselves. You could hear a pin drop in the dressing room,” Bob Hartley, then the Avalanche head coach, said of the mood after Game 5. “Ray, with a tear in his eye, spoke briefly, basically to tell the guys he had one or two games left to play before retiring and all he wanted was to win the Cup. I really had nothing to add. The guys were pumped after that.”
Bourque and Colorado Win It All
Facing playoff elimination can bring out the best in some athletes.
It certainly did for Bourque and Colorado.
The Avalanche flew back to New Jersey and beat the Devils in their own building 4-0.
They returned for Game 7 in Denver and pulled off the upset when they won 3-1.
On this day in 2001: Ray Bourque finished his 22-year @NHL career as a #StanleyCup Champion when the @Avalanche defeated the Devils 3-1 in Game 7 of the Final. #OTD | #NHLAlumni pic.twitter.com/1wmTlV2BVs
— NHL Alumni (@NHLAlumni) June 9, 2021
As the final minutes were elapsing, Bourque began to grasp what was happening.
“Over the final few minutes, I had trouble breathing. I thought I was going to pass out,” he said years later.
“I didn’t even watch the puck those last 11 seconds,” said Hartley. “My eyes were on Ray. Even though I was a coach in that game, for that last faceoff I was a hockey fan, like everybody else. Watching one of the greatest stories, one of the greatest players, in NHL history.”
During the Stanley Cup presentation, there wasn’t a dry eye in the building when the Cup was passed to Bourque.
“A lot of things going through your mind at that point,” Bourque said of the moment. “About family, there are a lot of ex-teammates that I played with that you wish you could share it with.”
Twenty-two years was enough for Ray Bourque. He finally had his world title and he wanted to spend time with his family.
“It took a long time, but the timing was perfect,” Bourque said in June 2001. “For me, this is a pretty neat finish. It means I retire as a champion.”
During his illustrious career, Bourque had 410 goals, 1,169 assists, and 1,579 total points.
He still leads the NHL all-time in each category.
Bourque was a Stanley Cup champion, five-time Norris Trophy winner, 19-time All-Star, 13-time selection for the NHL first or second teams, Calder Trophy winner, Clancy Trophy winner, and Canadian Olympic Team member in 1998.
On a side note, Bourque won the NHL All-Star shooting accuracy competition eight times.
Ray Bourque was a machine in the early 90's!
— NHL (@NHL) January 25, 2019
He was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility in 2004.
After retiring, Bourque spent time with his family and devoted time to his charity, the Bourque Family Foundation.
At 61 years of age, Bourque currently resides in Boston.
Although he is more than 20 years removed from the game, Bourque is still mentioned as one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history.
“Al, Pronger, [Coffey], Potvin, those other guys … all great players,” said Brian Sutter, who coached Bourque for three seasons with the Bruins. “And I mean great players. But Raymond was a notch above them, above everybody. In my opinion, [he was] the greatest defenseman since the greatest-ever defenseman, Bobby Orr.”