VANCOUVER – Alex Burrows took a day off from hockey, but not from his thoughts as he gets ready to play in the Stanley Cup final for the first time.
While the excitement is building for the Vancouver Canucks forward, Burrows’ mind focused Sunday on his newborn daughter and the memory of close friend and former teammate Luc Bourdon, who died exactly three years earlier in a motorcycle accident.
Both lives have impacted Burrows and both will continue to play a big role Wednesday when the Canucks host the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. They have already had a big effect on him during Vancouver’s playoff run.
Burrows’ daughter was born just over a month ago, one day after Burrows’ season-saving overtime goal in Game 7 of the first-round series against defending champion Chicago.
Bourdon is never far from the forward’s memory. Bourdon’s girlfriend, Charlene Ward, delivered a message that had his teammates fighting back tears during a ceremony that honoured Bourdon’s life before the 2008-09 season opener.
Her words still remain with Burrows.
“I remember Charlene saying this day should be a celebration of Luc’s life and not his death, so I think of all the good times we spent together,” Burrows said. “It makes you realize how special life is.
“There are bigger things than hockey, even in the Stanley Cup final. It puts everything back in perspective, how lucky we are to be here and healthy and going after one of my dreams.”
There is little doubt among most observers that Bourdon, who was just 21 when his motorcycle collided with a semitrailer, would be part of this playoff run. The talented two-way defenceman was chosen No. 10 overall in the 2005 draft and almost made the team that fall when he was only 18 years old. Bourdon played nine games the following season, and had two goals in 27 games in 2007-08.
Bourdon, who was from the 3,000-person town of Shippigan, was inducted into the New Brunswick Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
“I saw a sign the other night in the crowd, and it brought a tear to my eye,” said associate coach Rick Bowness, who is also from New Brunswick and got to know Bourdon while running the Canucks defence. “He’s just a wonderful, character kid, tremendous work ethic, and would he have been good enough to play on this team today? In my estimation, definitely.
“He was growing up as a man, growing up as a hockey player, and in my mind he would have been on this roster.”
Burrows believes Bourdon is here now, watching over the Canucks as they try to win their first Stanley Cup title. He thinks about Bourdon during the national anthem before every game, and has talked about the role his friend has played in his rise from a never-drafted, ball-hockey playing afterthought in the ECHL, to a top-line scorer on the NHL’s top regular-season team.
And now newly born Victoria, who fell asleep in her dad’s arms as he watched the Bruins advance to the Cup finals with a 1-0 win over Tampa Bay on Friday, is having an impact as Burrows continues to mature from a once-notorious agitator into a player with more playoff goals (seven) than penalty minutes (six).
Burrows says Bourdon has been with him throughout.
“He’s going to help me out and help the team out. It’s tough to explain,” he said. “Sometimes you feel you’ve got a second gear, and maybe that’s it.”
Burrows even wondered if Bourdon played a role in some fortunate bounces for the Canucks in the playoffs, such as when Alex Edler’s dump-in caromed off a stanchion in double overtime of Game 5 against San Jose. The puck found its way to the stick of Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who sent a soft, skipping one-timer into the net while everyone else on the ice tried to figure out where the puck went.
Another odd bounce came when Burrows knocked down a clearing pass at the Chicago blue-line, put his head down and slapped the rolling puck perfectly over the shoulder of Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who couldn’t read the shot.
“The bow and arrow is for that,” Burrows said.
The bow and arrow was afavourite celebration of Bourdon, and Burrows continued the tradition after his biggest goals, including two the night of Ward’s emotional tribute. He was already reaching for an imaginary arrow when teammates mobbed him after the Chicago goal.
“I wanted to get past the first guy and maybe shoot a couple into the upper deck, but I got clotheslined by the guys and couldn’t,” Burrows said. “But hopefully I have a few for the final.”