There are few hockey players who can honestly be said to "need no introduction," and Raymond Bourque is definitely one of them, so even though I'm going to write one anyway, I'll keep it brief.
Ray Bourque, one of the greatest defensemen of all time, graced Colorado with his presence for only one full season (and just 94 total games). He may have been 40 years old and in the final years of his career, but he brought an energy and a drive to the Avalanche that even Joe Sakic has trouble doing sometimes. Ray Bourque, as much as any other member of the team, led the Avs to their second franchise Stanley Cup, and for that he is firmly planted among the Top 19 Avalanche Players of All Time.
Normally in these profiles I take the time to describe each player's junior career and their early development as a player. I mention their draft position and any trades they were involved in. I lay out their personal history in some kind of detail before discussing their role with the Avalanche.
But we'd literally be here all day if I tried that with Ray Bourque. Instead, I'll just give a rundown of the significant numbers and accolades in his ridiculously amazing career.
22 seasons. 1612 regular season games (8th overall). 1579 total points (11th overall and 1st among defensemen). 1169 assists (4th overall). 6206 shots on goal (1st overall). 5 Norris trophies. The Calder Trophy for 1979-80. 1 King Clancy Trophy. 19 All Star appearances. 214 playoff games. 1 Stanley Cup.
And my favorite statistic, suggesting that Bourque was one of, if not the, greatest power play performer of all time: 1272 power play goals for (1st overall).
By 1999-2000, Ray Bourque had already played 20 seasons in the NHL. He had reached the Stanley Cup Finals twice with the Boston Bruins. But the famous hardware had eluded him, and he was desperate to claim hockey's ultimate prize before hanging up his skates. That season, realizing his chances were increasingly limited, he requested a trade to any true Cup contender, much to the disbelief of Bruins fans.
Bruins general manager Harry Sinden granted his request, but after faking out the media with reports that Bourque would become a Flyer, Sinden approved a deal with the Colorado Avalanche that sent Bourque and Dave Andreychuk to Denver in exchange for Brian Rolston, Samuel Pahlsson, Martin Grenier and a first round draft pick. In hindsight, it would have been great for the Avs to keep Rolston and Pahlsson, but considering it was a trade for the best defenseman in history that ultimately resulted in another Stanley Cup for the team, I guess we'll let it slide.
During the final 14 games of the 1999-2000 season, Bourque was on fire, as if nothing around him had changed at all. He scored eight goals and six assists as the Avs readied for the playoffs and a run at the Cup. Unfortunately, that run lasted only 13 games, as the Dallas Stars dispatched the Avs four games to three in the Western Conference Finals. Brett Hull's skate would not go on to win its second Cup, sadly for the Stars.
His final prize still eluding him, Bourque came back for the 2000-01 season. The Avalanche team around him, including Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, Adam Foote, Joe Sakic, Chris Drury, Alex Tanguay, Patrick Roy and eventually Rob Blake, had one of the strongest, most well-rounded lineups in the history of the game. The Avs would win 52 games that year, and Bourque would finish the regular season with 80 games played and 59 points scored, his highest points total since 1995-96.
But the real fun didn't start until the playoffs. Ray Bourque, consumed with just one purpose, named the Avalanche post-season effort "Mission 16W" in reference to the number of wins necessary to claim the Stanley Cup.
Colorado had no trouble early on, sweeping the Vancouver Canucks in the first round and moving on to face the Los Angeles Kings in the conference semi-finals. The Kings, led by Adam Deadmarsh's heart (he was traded from Colorado for Rob Blake just weeks before), nearly ruined Bourque's dream. But the Avs won the series and advanced with a 5-1 drubbing in game seven.
The Western Conference Finals went pretty well. The St. Louis Blues, who had swept the Stars the round before, couldn't manage more than one win against the Avalanche, were outscored 17-11 and succumbed in just five games.
The last team in Ray Bourque's way was the New Jersey Devils, in the Finals for the second straight season and looking to defend their Cup championship win from the year before. They almost did it, too. The Avs started strong with a 5-0 win in game one, but then stumbled in game 2. The teams traded wins until game five. New Jersey's 4-1 win took them to a 3-2 series lead and a chance to clinch the Cup on home ice. But Colorado struck back, taking game 6 with a 4-0 shutout and a renewed sense of purpose.
Then came game 7.
After that game, Gary Thorne will forever be one of my favorite announcers in sports. His "after 22 years...RAYMOND BOURQUE!!" call still brings a tear to my eye every time I watch the video. And I'm a badass who thinks crying is for wimps and Communists.
Anyway, the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup, and Ray Bourque got to retire on top.
The team then enjoyed a parade and celebration in downtown Denver, and the city even named a street after Bourque. After Bourque's official retirement that spring, the Boston Bruins retired his famous 77 in a ceremony on October 3, 2001. In a controversial move, the Avalanche also retired his number (the first for the team since moving to Denver) on November 24th. While I personally don't think the Avs should have retired the number of a player who spent less than two full seasons with the team, I certainly understand why it was done. The combination of Bourque's amazing career and his role in the team's second Cup win can't be dismissed easily.
Regardless of whether or not it was the right move, Ray Bourque's number 77 hangs from the rafters of the Pepsi Center along with the only other player to receive that honor in Denver, Patrick Roy.
Ray Bourque, one of the greatest hockey players in the history of the game, left quite a mark on his adopted Avalanche team. His contributions to Colorado's second Cup win, along with his heart, his character and his dedication to the game, earned him a spot among the top Avalanche players of all time.
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