PITTSBURGH – A few days ago, veteran winger Gary Roberts offered rookie teammate Kris Letang some advice. Don’t buy a motorcycle, Roberts told him. You’re too young for that.
The 21-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman was excited at the idea of getting one following a phone conversation with best friend Luc Bourdon.
“About two or three days ago, I asked him what he was up to and he talked about his new motorcycle,” a visibly shaken Letang said a day after his friend was killed on the bike in New Brunswick.
“We were talking about both of us having one,” Letang added.
Needless to say, Letang has dropped that idea after the crushing loss of his friend, a top prospect with the Vancouver Canucks. The 21-year-old defenceman’s tragic death cast a shadow on the Stanley Cup final Friday as the hockey world mourned the loss of one of its own.
“It makes the Stanley Cup final seem pretty small when a fellow athlete and friend of many passes away like that,” said Penguins defenceman Ryan Whitney.
The NHL will pay tribute to Bourdon with a moment of silence before Saturday’s fourth game of the Cup final.
“The National Hockey League family grieves with the family, friends, and teammates of Luc Bourdon,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “We send heartfelt condolences to the Vancouver Canucks’ organization and the community of Shippagan, N.B.”
Letang played junior with Bourdon at Val D’or in 2004-05 and 2005-06 while also lining up with him on the Canadian junior team in 2006 and 2007.
“We had so much in common, so many things we liked to do together,” said Letang, whose Penguins are down 2-1 in the best-of-seven final series.
Detroit Red Wings rookie forward Darren Helm played with Bourdon at the 2007 world junior tournament.
“He was a great guy,” Helm said Friday. “It’s a big tragedy. It’s shocking to everybody. He was taken away too early. He’ll definitely be missed.”
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, drafted the same year as Bourdon in 2005, met him at various Hockey Canada training camps.
“It’s tough,” said Crosby. “The hockey world is a small community. And I think a lot of guys probably crossed paths with him at some point. Personally, I was drafted with him, I saw him there.
“It’s sad to see someone that young have something happen like that. It certainly makes you realize how valuable life is and how lucky we are. But it’s an unfortunate incident for sure.”
Letang was leaving his apartment Thursday when his agent called with the news. He was crushed.
“I don’t know why, but this morning I had no energy,” said Letang, who didn’t play in Game 3 and won’t suit up Saturday either. “Even if I wanted to skate … It’s like I lost so much energy when it happened yesterday.”
Letang said the two talked all the time.
“We shared everything together,” said Letang. “We were supposed to go on vacation this summer, and he was coming to Montreal all summer long to train.”
Roberts lost a teammate in May 1999 when Steve Chiasson was killed after wrecking his pickup truck. He was returning home from a Carolina Hurricanes party at Roberts’ home.
“We were all just shocked over it,” recalled Roberts. “We spent a lot of time that summer reflecting over it and wishing things turned out differently We all tried to do the right things the night Steve had his accident. It is a lot to overcome for, number one, the family, and then the teammates and the organization, number two.
“I know that after Steve’s accident, every night we wore his number on our helmets the whole season. It was something I’ll never forget. Nobody forgets those situations. You try to deal with it and move on as best you can.”
The way in which Bourdon died also sent chills down the spines of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and forward Maxime Talbot. They both owned motorcycles before deciding to get rid of them.
“It’s dangerous,” said Talbot. “My brother had one and he had an accident. Fortunately he was fine, but still, they’re dangerous.”
There isn’t a specific mention in the NHL’s standard player contract that prohibits riding a motorcycle, although there is a paragraph related to “hazardous activities.”
“The player and the club recognize and agree that the player’s participation in other sports may impair or destroy his ability and skill as a hockey player,” it reads.
The clause goes on to say that while under contract with an NHL club, the player needs permission for his team to “engage or participate in football, baseball, softball, hockey, lacrosse, boxing, wrestling or other athletic sport.”
Police confirmed Friday that Bourdon had obtained his motorcycle licence only two weeks earlier.
RCMP investigators said Bourdon’s inexperience on motorcycle may have played a role in the crash.
Letang said his friend understood the risks.
“He’s a guy who had fun with sports stuff, like Sea-Doos and sport cars and whatever,” said Letang. “We talked about it. We know it was dangerous, but he had fun with it. I know he didn’t speed with it.
“He just had a bad move or something. Those things, you have no second chance.”