12.20.2015

Grampa Celtic: Where Does Ray Bourque Fit Into the Pantheon of Boston Legends?



In fairness to Harry Sinden, he certainly has been consistent. He was wailing that Raymond Bourque should be viewed in the same light as Larry Bird when the two were rookies 17 1/2 years ago, and he's still wailing in Bourque's defense today.

"Ray Bourque has never gotten his due in this town," Sinden said the other day, "and he probably never will."

There will be an appropriate outpouring of affection at the FleetCenter tomorrow night when the Bruins pay tribute to the new franchise scoring leader before the game with Ottawa. Bourque will shuffle around, no doubt, and probably be staring at the ice while Sinden and whoever remind everyone in attendance that we all have been privileged to have Bourque in our midst for the better part of two decades. Bourque then will take the mike and speak. He will deflect the praise. He will say how he couldn't have done it without his teammates. He basically will say that he surely is not worthy of such a fuss. And then he more than likely will go out and play a game that would serve any high school, college or junior coach as a how-to in the art of playing defense.

Sinden is right, you know. Raymond Bourque really never has gotten his due, and it really is unlikely he ever will. He'd like to play two more seasons after this one -- he thinks an even 20 has a nice ring -- then he will skate away. Oh, he'll go right into the Hall of Fame at the first opportunity, but he will leave us without ever having owned the town.

Here are a few reasons why that ultimate level of recognition never has come Bourque's way.

1) He has no public persona.

After 18 years, what do people know about Bourque? There is no folklore attached to him. He has neither a French Lick nor even a Parry Sound thing going on. He is extremely polite and he is almost always accessible, but he is no raconteur. What do people know about him? Oh, yes, he golfs. In hockey, they all golf.

Too bad no one saw him at Don Sweeney's wedding last summer. His teammates know something you don't know; namely, you put him in a room with a rock band and a microphone and you've got a regular Mick Jagger on your hands. Raymond loves to sing, and he ain't half bad. "They shouldn't call it `Karaoke,' " says one friend. "They should call it `Bourqueoke.' "

2) He's not Bobby Orr.

Orr was, well, Orr. He personally reinvented the game by reviving the Rover. He made defense an offensive position. He played with athleticism, grace and flamboyance. The Orr highlight film always includes dramatic end-to-end rushes generously punctuated with spins. Bobby Orr played with an unmatched aura.

Ray Bourque is more conventional. He can skate and go end-to-end, but he doesn't do it with sirens blaring. He doesn't do anything that isn't necessary. He doesn't hit people just to hit people because if impeding someone's progress is all that's necessary, then he'll settle for impeding someone's progress. It's not that he's shy on the ice. He invariably takes more shots than anyone on the team, but you don't always remember him whaling away because he makes everything look so natural and normal.

The Orr thing matters. The issue of Most Popular Bruin was settled a long time ago, and nothing will ever change that. Bourque can't fight it. All he can hope for is to be accepted on his own terms.

3) No Stanley Cups.

Orr had Esposito, Stanfield, Bucyk, Hodge, Cheevers, Sanderson and many other high profile teammates. Bird had the good fortune to play with Kevin McHale and Robert Parish for 10 seasons, and this is in a sport where you need fewer players of consequence to construct a superior team. Bird also played with a Hall of Famer in Tiny Archibald and another who should be in the Hall of Fame in Dennis Johnson. Bourque had a good run with Cam Neely and he's having a nice association with Adam Oates, but no one possibly could argue that he has been surrounded by all that many stars during his 18 years here, as is evidenced by the Bruins' results.

Orr's teams owned the town. Bird's teams owned the town. Bourque's teams have never owned the town, and thus have given him no chance to be an emperor. The two times he arrived in the Stanley Cup Finals, he did so as a member of an overachieving team that had no realistic chance of beating Edmonton (1-8 in '88 and '90).

There is no local vision of Bourque skating around holding Lord Stanley's cup overhead, and that hurts.

4) Defense is a tough position for the average fan to assess.

Bourque is a defenseman who scores, not a scorer who defends, and only true hockey aficionados appreciate the position he plays. If Bourque scores twice and assists twice in a Bruin victory, the odds are his name will be in the headlines, even if he has not played what he would consider a sound defensive game.

Defense is not a glamour position when practiced by someone other than Bobby Orr. Most people follow the puck, and so some of Bourque's best work is done out of view. I'm sure he is happiest when he has fulfilled his defenseman's duties first, and scored secondarily, rather than the other way around. Call me the next time you see the following headline: BOURQUE BACKCHECKING BUOYS B'S.

People would be amazed if they knew how hard he works, which brings us back to reason No. 1. For years he has spent six days a week during the offseason in a regimen devised by good friend Benoit Leduc, a Canadian distance coach. He bikes, he runs, he lifts, he sweats and he never stops. He'll play 18 holes, gulp perhaps one beer and head for a workout. Maybe that's why he's as good at 36 as he was at 30, or even 25. But he's Ray Bourque, and he's never going to talk much about it.

In terms of a personal role model, Raymond Bourque is off the charts. There never has been a breath of scandal surrounding him. He honors the organization, the league and the city in everything he does. Those are risky words for someone to use in reference to a modern athlete, but I have little fear of being burned by some shocking Bourque revelation.

The record book alone should be cause for celebration. In his first 17 years he's been first-team all-league 12 times and second-team five times. At the end of this year, it's either going to be 13 and five or 12 and six. He's won five Norris Trophies. And now he's the all-time leading scorer in Bruins history.

Ray Bourque isn't going to change now. He's not Ted Williams. He's not Bill Russell. He's not Larry Bird. He's not Bobby Orr. He's just solid, dependable, relentless, and, most of all honorable, Raymond Bourque.

That should be enough for all of us.

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