It turns out you can go home again.
And it only took Ray Bourque about four minutes to prove that.
Greeted with a thunderous ovation and a tear-inducing two-minute video tribute, Bourque returned to the FleetCenter for the first time since being traded to the Colorado Avalanche last March. It was his second game against the Bruins, his former team.
“It was very difficult. Warm-up was tough,” Bourque told reporters after the game. “But I was very happy to have the opportunity to come back and thank the fans who have been so good to me and treated me well today. It was a very nice day and I had a lot of fun with it.”
After nearly 21 seasons in black and gold, including the last few on a mediocre team, the 40-year-old defenseman asked Bruins general manager Harry Sinden to be traded to a contender. Sinden obliged, shipping the franchise cornerstone to Colorado, the 1996 Stanley Cup champion.
“I never thought I would leave here,” Bourque said at a press conference on Friday. “It would have been great if we’d been contending for the Cup the past five years in Boston. It wasn’t going to happen here. But I feel I’m coming home. This is definitely home for [me and my family].”
The realization that he was “home” hit Bourque in the elevator at the team hotel before he met the press. Though he’s accustomed to the crowd of about 50 that met the team bus at the hotel and stayed into the early evening seeking his autograph, Friday was different, Bourque said, because this time he recognized some of the faces.
“I’m sure I’m going to recognize a lot of fans in the stands,” he said. “It’s going to be a fun day.”
Winning constitutes a fun day for Bourque, who said his most memorable days in Boston date back to the early 1990s when the Bruins were perennial title contenders. Throughout those years and his entire career in Boston, Bourque produced numbers that rank him among the game’s elite — 10th all-time in scoring and second all-time in assists.
Bourque’s second assist of the game and 49th of the season came on the eventual game-winning goal, scored by former Boston University forward Chris Drury, who was celebrating a homecoming of his own. Drury’s trip back to Boston was highlighted by his selection to the 2002 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, on which he will be joined by former Terriers Tony Amonte and Keith Tkachuk.
A beloved and model citizen, Bourque, who still lives in Danvers, Mass., supplanted Bobby Orr as the Bruins’ icon in the mid-1980s, becoming a hero and role model for youth skaters. BU junior defenseman and alternate captain Chris Dyment watched Bourque’s work on the blue line growing up in Reading, Mass.
“He makes very few mistakes out there,” Dyment said. “Whatever he does out there, he can recover and cover for himself. Also, he never gets too down. You never see him bang his stick on the ice.”
Although he hasn’t modeled his style of play after Bourque’s, Dyment said Bourque’s example is one to follow.
“I definitely followed his career. He’s one of the best defensemen ever. He really plays a mistake-free game,” Dyment said.
Bourque didn’t rule out the possibility that Saturday may have been his last game in Boston. If it was, he skated off the ice a winner and will always be remembered as one by Bruins fans.
“In a lot of ways, I’ll always be a Bruin,” Bourque said. “I have a lot of special memories here that can never be taken away from me.”
Bourque emerged victorious in his return to Boston as he and the Avalanche, who are 60-15-10 since acquiring Bourque on March 6, 2000, beat the Boston Bruins 4-2 on Saturday afternoon.
Bourque played a large part in the win, tallying two assists within the first 4:01 of the game, part of a flurry that put Colorado up to stay, 3-0. The win gave the Avalanche 111 points on the season, distancing their lead on the Detroit Red Wings in the race for the President’s Trophy, awarded to the team with the most points during the regular season.