SHIPPAGAN, N.B. – The motorcycle crash that killed NHL rookie Luc Bourdon – only two weeks after he obtained his licence – has deprived northern New Brunswick of a hometown hero who was both an inspiration and ambassador for the province’s fiercely proud Acadian community.
The 21-year-old Vancouver Canucks defenceman was killed instantly Thursday near his family’s home in Shippagan when the powerful motorcycle he was driving slammed into an oncoming tractor-trailer as he tried to pass another truck on a curve.
“Luc was our star – everyone was looking at him as a model,” said Gilles Cormier, who coached Bourdon for a year in minor hockey.
“As a kid, you all want to play in the NHL, and Luc did it … He proved to everybody he could do it. That’s a big, big loss for us.”
On Friday, RCMP investigators said Bourdon’s inexperience on the sleek, speedy machine – a Suzuki GSX-R1000 – may have played a role in the crash.
“The impact took place in the opposite lane,” Insp. Roch Fortin told a news conference at Shippagan’s town hall, where the flags were flying at half-mast.
Fortin also noted it was windy on Thursday and a sudden gust may have pushed Bourdon into the truck’s path.
In an odd twist, police later confirmed that Bourdon’s cousin was injured in a motorcyle accident Friday. RCMP Const. Guy Marquis said the cousin, who was not named, was taken to hospital but did not appear to have serious injuries.
The bike – another Suzuki – was destroyed in a collision with a car.
Bourdon’s uncle, Robert Boucher, said the rising hockey star dedicated himself so much to hockey that he took no time off in the last five years as he pursued his dream of playing in the NHL.
He said Bourdon came home to Shippagan earlier this week for a one-month vacation so he could play golf and hang out with his friends.
So many of those friends own motorcycles that Bourdon decided to buy one, too.
“He loved to have fun,” Boucher said in French during the news conference in Shippagan, an Acadian community of 3,000 about 250 kilometres northeast of Fredericton.
“Like anyone who is 21, he loved motorcycles. He wanted to buy a bike. That was his choice.”
Boucher said he his nephew “liked to be crazy and do crazy things,” but he was also a kind man who was generous with his time.
“He was always ready to help people out – people in the family and others as well,” he said. “We lost our little Luc, but I think that Shippagan as well has lost someone important.”
Jonathan Noel, the town’s mayor, said Bourdon was a role model for young people on the Acadian Peninsula.
“Everyone was saying, ‘If we can do like Luc, a young guy from a small town in a place that nobody knows in the world, and he made the NHL,”‘ he said. “Everybody was looking up to him and trying to follow a dream like he did.”
Later in the day, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman issued a statement from Pittsburgh saying a moment of silence will be observed Saturday prior to Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins.
“The National Hockey League family grieves with the family, friends and teammates of Luc Bourdon,” Bettman said, adding that a ceremony will honour “a young life ended long before its promise could be fulfilled.”
In Shippagan, Bourdon’s great-aunt, Anna Boucher, said the young man’s family is struggling to cope with his death.
“It’s so sad,” she said. “He was a good guy.”
She said that although Bourdon’s NHL career took him to Vancouver, he often returned to Shippagan and gave back to the community.
“He came to the arena and he used to talk to all the little guys there and he used to play hockey with them,” she said from her home.
Bourdon was the first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks, 10th overall, in the 2005 NHL draft.
He also played a key role in Canada’s gold-winning teams at the 2006 and 2007 world junior championships and was expected to have a bright future on the Canucks blueline.
Bourdon was named to the all-star team at the 2006 world juniors. At the 2007 event in Sweden, Bourdon scored the third-period goal that tied the game and forced overtime against the U.S. in the semifinal game.
Bourdon split last season between Vancouver and Manitoba of the American Hockey League. He played 27 games with the Canucks, scoring two goals and collecting 20 penalty minutes.
The crash that claimed Bourdon’s life occurred not far from Bathurst, where another sports-related accident in January killed seven members of the Bathurst High basketball team and an adult.
At the crash site near Shippagan, local residents have made a makeshift memorial that includes a single, red rose and a yellow, cloth butterfly.
The roadside offerings also include a photo of Bourdon with an inscription that reads: “Au revoir, Luc.”