Press Round-Up - MAY.30.08
Sobbing uncontrollably just hours after losing her son, Luc Bourdon, in a tragic motorcycle accident, Suzanne Boucher said she had tried desperately to stop him from buying a bike.
Her plea worked last year when her fears changed his mind. That's when Bourdon, the promising Canucks defenceman, first told his mom he dreamed of riding, and was spellbound by the "power and beauty" of motorcycles.
"I was scared when he told me that," Boucher said yesterday through tears from her home in Shippagan, N.B. "I disagreed with it so much. I said, 'You can't do it.' It was too risky, too dangerous. His girlfriend helped me reason with him. But this year was different. This year he wasn't going to listen.
"He said, 'Mom, I can die in a plane, I can die in a car, I can die walking out onto the street. I don't want to live in fear. I want to enjoy life to the fullest. Don't worry, Mom, I'll be safe. I won't be crazy.'"
The police don't believe Bourdon, 21, was being "crazy" when his bike, the one he bought just three weeks ago, veered into an oncoming tractor-trailer on a remote stretch of Highway 113 on New Brunswick's north shore. Bourdon, who was riding what was described as a "racing bike," died instantly between Lemaque, N.B., and Shippagan. He slammed head-on into the transport truck just after noon Atlantic time.
Police believe a strong gust of wind, estimated at more than 70 km/h, knocked Bourdon off-course to the other side of the road.
The accident left a small town in shock, a family in mourning and a mother, who was Bourdon's "guiding light" throughout his life, screaming for her lost son.
"He was my only child," Boucher wailed. "I don't know what I'm going to do without him. He was everything to me. I tried to prevent him from doing this. I tried to stop him."
Boucher, a teller at National Bank for 46 years, invested everything she had in Bourdon. Her time. Her money. Her vacations. Her life.
"She was his adviser, his mom, his friend," Bourdon's agent, Kent Hughes, said. "She was . . . the guiding light in his life."
When Bourdon was young, Boucher said, she never missed a game, not even a practice. "But he left home when he was 16 and I couldn't see him as much. That was so hard on me. It was hard to be away from him," Boucher said.
"But every vacation I had -- two weeks in the fall, one week after Christmas -- I went to go watch him play. It cost me a lot of money but it was worth it. He was worth it. I always knew in my heart he would be a great hockey player. And he was just about to become a great hockey player. It was in him."
Bourdon started riding his motorbike on the road about 10 days ago, after getting his licence, following a course.
Bourdon's dad, Luc Bourdon Sr., took a long walk after hearing the tragic news.
"Oh my God, we can't believe this happened," said Bourdon Sr.'s wife, Maryse Godin-Bourdon. "It's an unreal tragedy. His father is crushed."
Eve Bourdon is Bourdon's 16-year-old stepsister. She goes to the same high school that Bourdon went to, Marie Ecole in Shippagan.
"All the students are having a very difficult time," Godin-Bourdon said. "Luc was a hero."
Boucher travelled to Manitoba last year and came to Vancouver two years ago to see her son play professionally.
Bourdon was the Canucks' first-round draft in 2005 and played 27 games last season with Vancouver, scoring twice. He was expected to earn a full-time spot in the NHL this fall.
"He loved to be with his team, he loved to be on the Canucks," Boucher said. "That was always his dream. He worked so hard to get there . . . And now it's gone. I lost him and I don't know what I'm going to do." More
In Vancouver, fans hoped Luc Bourdon would one day be a star. In Shippagan, N.B., he was already a hall of famer.
"He will not be forgotten for a long, long time," said Gilles Cormier, who coached Bourdon in bantam and now manages the local arena in the small town of about 3,000 people.
"His impact will be felt for a generation, maybe longer. He proved people can do it. He showed kids here that even though they come from a small town like this, they can make it. He was a hero to them and someone people will continue to look up to."
Along the northern New Brunswick shore, Shippagan is in the northeastern part of the Acadian Peninsula. About 99 per cent of the town's residents are francophone.
There is one high school, Ecole Marie-Esther, where Bourdon received straight A's, family members said.
Bourdon came from two local athletic families -- the Bourdons and his mother Suzanne's family, the Goupils.
Bourdon's father, Luc Bourdon Sr., was a solid goaltender and a good ball player. He was good at many other sports, family members said.
Meanwhile, Bourdon's uncle on his mother's side, Robert Boucher, and the Goupil family played a big role in his development as a budding hockey star.
"People are just devastated here, it's hard to fully explain," said Boucher.
Bourdon never forgot his roots.
He came home to a hero's welcome when he brought his gold medal to Shippagan after the 2006 world junior hockey championship. Crowds of people came out to the local arena on one day to see the medal and on another day just to see Bourdon skate.
He had lived in Shippagan with his mom during the offseason since he first left home at age 16. Playing in the NHL hadn't changed that. He is part of the local folklore, a legend.
"The town is in shock," said Shippagan mayor Jonathan Roch Noel. "Everyone knew him. Everyone was a fan of his. People were so excited when he first made the NHL. It was incredible.
"All of our thoughts are with his family. He was an incredible ambassador for our town. He is an incredible example of how far determination can take you."
Bourdon was the second player from Shippagan to be taken in the NHL draft. The first was Yanick Degrace, a goaltender picked by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1991. Degrace never played a game in the NHL and, like Bourdon, was tragically killed in a car accident in 2001.
"Yanick was my best friend," Roch Noel said. "When I first heard about Luc, my mind instantly flashed back and I thought of Yanick. It brought back all those memories. It was very difficult then and it is again now to have something similar happen here."
Bourdon gave back to his community, sometimes quietly. Cormier recalls how last winter Bourdon gave the local minor hockey association $10,000 to buy hockey equipment for youths whose families couldn't afford it.
"He didn't want to make a big deal about it," Cormier said. "He did it anonymously. He didn't want anyone to know he was the one who gave the money."
Cormier remembers how feverishly Bourdon defended his bantam teammates.
"He was always about his team," Cormier said. "He was always about sticking up for people, defending his teammates no matter what, no matter where.
"But you know what? He was always one of us. I don't think a lot of people here realized how special he was until he started playing in the NHL. Then people saw how special he is. Then he became idolized." More
There are two curves in the nine-kilometre stretch of highway between Shippagan and Lameque.
Thursday, as 21-year-old Luc Bourdon rounded one of those curves, a gust of wind reportedly caused him to lose control of his motorcycle.
And that was it. A young life ended. A young life as limitless as the horizon. A young life as bright and promising as the sunrise of a new day. It hadn't always been easy for Bourdon but the men who were entrusted with his career knew he was going to make it because they saw what was inside the kid.
And now, a freak gust of wind and it was all over.
So how do you make sense of it? Why Luc Bourdon? Why now? Rick Bowness, the Canucks' assistant coach who's also from New Brunswick, was asking himself the same questions. He just had a hard time finding answers between the tears.
Steve Tambellini, who'd watched Bourdon every difficult step of his career and couldn't wait to see him again this September, wasn't doing much better. His friend Guy Savoie -- who's from the same corner of New Brunswick as Bourdon, who helped nurse him through the most trying time of his career as the Moncton Wildcats' trainer -- was in the same dark place.
They'd all seen the uncertain beginning to his journey but they all believed in Bourdon because, aside from his obvious physical gifts, he had the heart, the desire, the dedication; all the intangibles that ultimately determine success.
No, the kid was going to be a player. He was also going to make a difference on and off the ice.
"Even at his age, he was like an icon in that community," said Savoie. "He was a role model for young players and he took that seriously. He was never in any trouble. I just can't believe he's gone."
"He was just on the cusp of realizing what he was going to become," said Tambellini, the Canucks' VP of hockey operations. "We all were just starting to see the real person."
"Where I saw him in '06 and where we left him last season was night and day," said Bowness, who couldn't make it through the first interview session about Bourdon. "He'd come so far. He was very comfortable with himself and he had this quiet confidence that you could see in his eyes and hear in his voice."
That also told you all you needed to know about Bourdon.
The more ardent Canucks fans, of course, are familiar with his story. As an 18-year-old at his first NHL camp, he dazzled and should have made the team. He was then sent back to junior for seasoning where he promptly demolished his ankle and spent the next two years trying to rebuild his career and his confidence.
It was widely feared, in fact, that the Canucks had drafted a bust when they took Bourdon with the 10th pick of the 2005 draft. This, apparently, was because he'd failed to win a Norris Trophy by the time he was 20.
The Canucks' brass, however, took a different view.
"We want things to happen so quickly," said former Canucks GM Dave Nonis, the man who drafted Bourdon. "But Luc was determined to climb the ladder by himself, to earn his playing time. That's why he was going to be a special, special player."
I had an opportunity to talk to Bourdon about that same subject late last season and it was an enlightening experience. I'd remembered him from his first Canucks camp when he was still greener than grass, when he seemed so unsure of himself.
But that day, I found a self-assured young man who had a healthy perspective on his career and everything that had happened to him. He hadn't been beaten down by the expectations or the pressure. Rather, he'd learned from everything he'd been through and it was going to make him better.
That interview was conducted just days before his 21st birthday.
"Back home they don't understand why I'm not in the NHL [permanently] right now," he said. "I know I've been around and I've been close but I'm happy with where I am."
I left pulling for Bourdon and believing -- like Nonis; like Tambellini; like Bowness; like Scott Arneil, his coach in Manitoba; like Ted Nolan, his coach in Moncton; like Brent Sutter, his coach on the national junior team -- that he was going to make it.
I will always believe that about Bourdon. And I will always remember the young man who was happy where he was. More
The death Thursday of Vancouver Canuck defenceman Luc Bourdon in a motorcycle accident has shaken the NHL team from its top to its bottom.
Bourdon, 21, died near his hometown of Shippagan, N.B., when he lost control of his new bike, purchased just three weeks ago, and slammed into a transport truck.
"It's a tragedy, I really feel for the mother," said Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini. "It's about the worst thing that can happen to a parent, losing a child. It's kind of a shock ... a young kid, 21, with his whole life in front of him.
"On an emotional side, it's hard. It's a very difficult thing. I met him a few times and thought he was a really solid guy."
Bourdon was drafted 10th overall in 2005 and played 36 games in a Canuck uniform, scoring two goals. He split the 2007-08 season between the Canucks and their American League farm team, the Manitoba Moose.
Moose goalie Cory Schneider, who lives in the Boston area, saw news of Bourdon's death on the Internet. Schneider was also a first-round pick, in 2004.
"It's really sad, it's really scary, to see something like this happen, especially to someone so young and with such a bright future," said the 22-year-old Schneider. "Obviously everyone on the team is pretty stunned, having just left Manitoba a month ago after we were knocked out of the playoffs.
"It's a really bizarre feeling. During the season, you get to know guys so well and you become close to them."
Schneider described Bourdon as a likeable and quirky individual.
"He was always doing stuff in the locker room and thinking of some crazy idea to play the guitar or doing this or that or whatever," Schneider said. "I wasn't Luc's best friend, but I still got to know him pretty well. It's just really upsetting. All my thoughts are with his family right now."
Canuck assistant coach Rick Bowness, who handled the blue-line corps, worked closely with Bourdon at two training camps and also during his various stints with the Canucks. Bowness said that he received the tragic news in a call from head coach Alain Vigneault.
"Alain was pretty shaken up and I had just a sickening feeling when he told me," Bowness said from his off-season home in Halifax. "Words just can't describe this. It's just a tragedy for Luc's family. I can't even imagine what a parent goes through with the loss of a child. I guess what I'll miss the most is Luc the person. That's what's important to me."
Bowness recalled Bourdon as a "wonderful kid" who was making adjustments to his game and displaying great character in the process.
"I just enjoyed watching Luc grow over the last couple of years off the ice, from being a shy kid not sure where he fit in, to where he grew to be a confident young man who did fit in," Bowness said. "One of the things I'll always remember about Luc was watching him at the Special Olympics dinner interacting with the athletes and how he handled himself and how he went out of his way to make them feel at ease.
"I was so impressed with that and I was hoping to get him more involved in charity events this summer around the Maritimes." More
What did you really know about Luc Bourdon?
Better yet, did you care about him?
Too often we view hockey players as commodities, like potash or lima beans -- something of a certain value to be retained in the hope of appreciation or bartered for something else.
To many, Bourdon was merely a first-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks, a 21-year-old with all the National Hockey League tools but still needing the toolbox to organize them.
"Still." After only one full season of professional hockey.
Less than three years removed from his draft, the defenceman was already absurdly deemed a failure by some, mostly because he wasn't Anze Kopitar.
A lot of people here would have dropped Bourdon-the-commodity long before he crashed his new motorcycle into a truck and died early Thursday in his beloved New Brunswick.
The Canucks lost a good prospect. But the Acadian fishing town of Shippagan lost something more -- a hero. And we can't even begin to fathom what Suzanne Boucher lost when her only boy was killed.
"I don't know if you know Shippagan," Guysma Hache said on the phone from there. "It's a very small city -- only 2,500 people. We are a French community. The kids around here, they dreamed to have a chance to see Luc Bourdon bring the Stanley Cup here. He was a hero. That was the dream of a lot of kids.
"In our house, we were very close to Luc. I used to have [an outdoor] hockey rink at my house. All the time, he was here to play hockey with my two sons.
"I lost a good friend today. I lost one of my sons."
Hache coached Bourdon for seven years, until he was 12.
During that time, Bourdon was stricken with juvenile arthritis so badly he was confined to a wheelchair. He missed an entire season but went to games, anyway, and was able to play again only with the right combination of drugs and physiotherapy.
Bourdon overcame that. And he overcame Shippagan's isolation at the far eastern tip of New Brunswick, leaving the security of home at age 16 to play in the Quebec League for the Val d'Or Foreurs. When his junior team visited the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, three busloads of Bourdon fans travelled across the Acadian Peninsula to see him play.
And when the Canucks selected Bourdon 10th overall in 2005, the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal declared in an editorial that the province was now "Luc Bourdon Country."
He was the highest drafted player ever to come from New Brunswick and was expected to be the best one since Danny Grant made it to the NHL from Fredericton 40 years ago.
Bourdon was greeted as a conquering hero when he returned from the 2006 World Junior Championship in Vancouver with a gold medal for Team Canada and a tournament all-star award. And when the Moncton Wildcats acquired him from Val d'Or to boost the host team's Memorial Cup bid that year, Bourdon's initial press conference was like something reserved for rock stars.
"I used to run a hockey school and when he came to my hockey school, all the kids were so anxious to see him," Hache said. "He was great with all the kids. He never changed. He was a great ambassador here. We're all very shocked, very sad."
Bourdon was raised by his mom and had no relationship with his biological father. His mother remarried, but Bourdon took no one on the road with him when the Canucks staged their first father-and-son trip in March.
He split this season between the Canucks and their American League affiliate in Winnipeg. He played 27 games for Vancouver, scoring two goals and finishing plus-seven while averaging 12:52 of ice time.
But measured against 2005's sparkling first-round class, headlined by Sidney Crosby, Bourdon's progress frustrated some fans and reporters.
"That was remarkably unfair," former Canuck general manager Dave Nonis said Thursday. "We'd all love our kids to play at 18 or 19, but the fact is, most don't. I think Luc felt the pressure of being a high pick. He put pressure on himself. There were a lot of great players picked [in 2005], but very few had more ability than he had.
"It just took him time to find himself. He wanted to prove to people he could be a top player."
Assistant GM Steve Tambellini said: "I was just thinking today how much was in Luc. There was so much emotion inside him. He didn't always express it, but there was so much passion and emotion in this young man."
Bourdon might have become another Ed Jovanovski, who was remarkably similar in raw ability and inconsistency at that age, or maybe he'd have been Bryan Allen. In one form or another, he was going to be an NHL player. We'll not know how good.
Profoundly sadder, we'll never know what kind of person Bourdon might have become. Might he have inspired and led other Acadians into the NHL? How might he have improved his community?
He was a great son -- would he have been a great father or grandfather? How many lives would he have enriched? Would he have made more of a mark in the world than swirling patterns on the ice and a skidmark on a New Brunswick highway?
"He was just a kid," veteran Canuck Trevor Linden said. "He loved music, loved guitar -- he had a few of them. He loved video games, loved going down to this hot dog stand on Robson Street. He was just a boy.
"That's the amazingly sad part. His journey was just starting."
When Bourdon was alive, most viewed him as a player-commodity. Now that he's dead, we discover the person. More
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