Popular Bourque retires for more family time after 22 years in NHL

Everybody loves Sir Raymond

Posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2001

DENVER -- For 22 seasons, Ray Bourque performed like few others on the ice. On Tuesday, he showed he knew how to make a grand exit, too.

Bourque announced his retirement 17 days after hoisting the Stanley Cup with tears streaming down his face.

Bourque's pursuit of the elusive cup made him a sentimental favorite in this year's playoffs.

''It took a long time, but the timing was perfect,'' he said. ''For me, this is a pretty neat finish. It means I retire as a champion.''

An emotional Bourque dabbed at his eyes and choked back tears several times at a news conference.

''Many of you have asked why I am retiring at a time when I am still playing pretty well,'' Bourque said.

''By far the most important factor is my desire to be around my children,'' said the father of three.

''Frankly, I also have had a strong commitment to myself never to stay too long in the game. Also, we are still on cloud nine having won the Stanley Cup and having achieved that goal kind of rounds out my career.

''It's been a wonderful, happy, terrific 22 years.''

Bourque, 40, the highest-scoring defenseman in NHL history, was a five-time winner of the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman and played in a record 19 consecutive All-Star games.

He played for 21 seasons in Boston, but requested a trade to a contender in March 2000 in hopes of winning the Stanley Cup. He finally got it when the Colorado Avalanche beat the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 on June 9.

Although Bourque's stint in Colorado lasted just 15 months, his No. 77 jersey will be retired and will hang from the rafters of Pepsi Center, Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix said.

''Ray's contributions to our hockey club were tremendous and will never be forgotten,'' Lacroix said.

Bourque's jersey is the first to be retired in the six-year history of the Avalanche and the fifth in the history of the franchise, which originated as the Quebec Nordiques.

On Tuesday night, Bruins president Harry Sinden said that the team will also retire Bourque's number next season.

''He's a slam dunk as far as the Bruins are concerned. It's something we've known for a number of years,'' Sinden told The Associated Press. ''We waited for his official retirement, and we'll pick an appropriate game this coming season to do it.''

Despite his long career in Boston, Bourque said, ''I am a Colorado Avalanche, and I am retiring as one. So it is only right that I have returned to Denver to make this announcement.''

Bourque recalled reporting to the Boston Bruins' training camp in 1979, ''hoping to make the big team. I was a shy, quiet kid from St. Laurent, Quebec. I believed I could play in the NHL, but you never know until you get there.

''Over 1,800 games and 22 years later, here I am having exceeded my wildest dreams. I have been honored to play with great players on terrific teams. I have been very lucky along the way. I've avoided devastating injuries. I've won a few awards. And I've capped my career by being part of a Stanley Cup-winning team.''

Family matters became more important for Bourque since his trade to the Avalanche. Bourque's wife, Christiane, and their children, aged 17, 15 and 10, stayed in Boston after he was traded.

Other than spending more time with his family, Bourque said he had no immediate plans for his future.

''This summer is going to be very busy, especially with a visit from my new friend, Stanley,'' he said. ''I've had that cup twice now with me, and next week it's going to Montreal with me.

''I suppose once I get to the fall, I'll be able to sit back and think about some business options and other opportunities.''

He called winning the Cup ''an unbelievable feeling,'' but insisted he had ''absolutely no regrets'' about leaving the game now.

''To compete at the highest level of this game, you have to be mentally prepared every night,'' he said. ''Honestly, that gets tougher and tougher to do after 22 seasons.

''I could have played another two or three years, but I don't think I would have played at the same level. I've always wanted to go out on my terms and playing at the level I've been accustomed to playing. There are some things you can't do anymore. You make some adjustments, but you just can't react as quick, and I knew I wasn't going to get any quicker.''

Asked what he will miss most, Bourque said, ''Just messing around with the guys, having fun playing a kid's game. I am 40 years old and go to the rink every day and play a game for a living. It doesn't get much better than that.''

Bourque said he decided last summer that the 2000-2001 season would be his last, regardless of his team's accomplishments.

''The voice in my head kept saying the same thing. I knew I was leaving after this year,'' he said. ''I was just hoping it could finish like this. This is the one thing I was chasing for so long and hoped I was going to be able to hoist.''

Asked what legacy he hoped to leave his teammates, he said, ''I think the passion and just the joy of playing the game.''

With Bourque's retirement, the Avalanche save $5.5 million, the difference between his 2001-02 salary of $6.5 million and a $1 million buyout. That should help the team pursue its marquee free agents: Joe Sakic, Rob Blake and Patrick Roy.



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