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Boston still loves Bourque

Posted: Sunday, March 25, 2001

BOSTON -- This wasn't the victory lap Ray Bourque was dreaming about during all those years with the Boston Bruins.

Instead of hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head for a trip around the ice, Bourque picked up the game puck at the final buzzer on Saturday and skated around the rink, waving to the fans to thank them for their support over his 21 years with the Bruins.

''In a lot of ways, I'll always be a Bruin,'' the Avalanche defenseman said after recording two assists in Colorado's 4-2 victory over his former team. ''I talked to many people when I got here early on, and they told me how good a place this is to play. ... They're right.

''That's why I'm going to be coming back here to live. This is home for me and my family. I'll always be a Boston Bruin because I've got a lot of special memories from here. They can't take those away.''

Bourque played 21 with the Bruins, winning five Norris Trophies in a Hall of Fame career that established him as one of the best defensemen in NHL history. But he never won a Stanley Cup here, and when it became obvious that he wouldn't win one in Boston last year he asked to be traded.

He was dealt to the Avalanche last March 6 for Brian Rolston and three other players, and the Avalanche hadn't played in Boston since. So this was Bourque's first chance to say goodbye to the fans who still wear their No. 77 jerseys to the FleetCenter every night -- not just in black and gold, but now in Colorado's red, white and blue.

''Everybody's got a great amount of respect for Ray Bourque and what he's done for the Bruins and the city of Boston,'' said Bruins forward Bill Guerin, who never played with Bourque but watched him while growing up in Wilbraham, Mass., and at Boston College. ''I wish we had beaten him.''

Although Colorado has the NHL's best record and the Bruins are locked in a playoff race -- Saturday's loss dropped them four points behind Carolina for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference -- the rest of Boston had been eagerly anticipating Bourque's return.

The Bruins recorded just their eighth sellout of the season, and the crowd of 17,565 screamed for Bourque at every possible moment. He was given a cheer when he came onto the ice for warmups and again when he left the ice, waving his stick in the air to acknowledge the fans.

Before the teams took the ice for the opening faceoff, the scoreboard played a video tribute that recapped Bourque's career as he went from a fresh-faced rookie of the year through five Norris Trophies and 19 consecutive All-Star game appearances to become the Bruins' all-time leading scorer.

At the end, it simply said, ''Thank You, Ray. 21 Years.''

''It was special for us,'' Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy said. ''I had goosebumps at the beginning and at the end of the game.''

Then, Bourque led his new team onto the ice to a thunderous ovation, waving again with his stick. Perhaps the only most surprising part of it all was that the Boston fans even cheered when Bourque assisted on two early goals that helped drop the hometown team into a 3-0 hole just 4:01 into the game.

''I'm sure it was a jump-start for Ray,'' Rolston said. ''It was an electric building.''

Because Bourque won't say whether he will play next year, this could also have been his last appearance at the FleetCenter until his number is retired. There will also probably be something here when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame.

In case he doesn't make it back before he retires, Bourque picked up the puck at the end of the game -- just as he did last March, in his final game here as a Bruin. But this time, Bourque raised it above his head and carried it on one final lap.

''I'm very happy I had a chance to come back and thank the fans. They've been so good to me,'' he said. ''I'll never forget my days here.''



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