FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

bruce mug shot 1BY: Bruce Berlet

With a last name synonymous with hockey greatness, one would think Ryan Bourque has been a rink rat almost from the time he departed the womb.

Well, think again.

Unlike Hall of Fame father Ray and older brother Chris, Ryan left hockey-mad Boston for Denver before realizing at age 11 that the sport featuring skates, sticks and pucks was more enjoyable than soccer.

But now Ryan is on the verge of a professional hockey career thanks largely to guidance from dad and bro’ that led to being the New York Rangers’ third-round pick in 2009.

“My father and brother have probably been my two biggest mentors,” Ryan said during the Rangers’ prospects camp at the Madison Square Garden training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y. “I don’t know if I’d be playing hockey now if I hadn’t grown up with my brother. When I was four to eight years old, I wasn’t even really that interested, but then he pushed me and pushed me, and once I was nine-10 years old, it just took off and I’ve never looked back.

“It’s just been the best decision I’ve ever made because he has always been there to push me. When my dad was playing and on the road a lot, my brother was always there to push me in the right direction and challenge me.”

Bourque said he had plenty of battles with Chris in their backyard in Boxford, Mass., and as soon as his father retired in 2001, he “was right on board” and coached Ryan in peewee and bantam before being an assistant coach at Cushing Academy where his sons played. Ray then helped in a different way as Ryan played the last two seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Quebec Remparts, who ironically are owned, managed and coached by one of Ray’s former Bruins antagonist and later a Colorado Avalanche teammate, Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy.

“Dad has always been there and just a phone call away when I was in Quebec to help me,” Ryan said. “He has just been a great mentor and has always had good things to say. He’s never really ever been negative because I think I’m the type of person that beats myself up enough, and he knows that. So he has tried to give me confidence and good tips and takes notes whenever he watches me and be there to try to help develop me as best as he can.”

Despite dad’s guidance, Ryan has overriding goal.

“I feel very fortunate to have him as my father, but I’m my own player. I’m Ryan Bourque,” he said. “I am Ray’s son, but I’m trying to make my own name for myself.”

But the Bourque boys’ path toward pro hockey isn’t their only difference.

A decade ago, Chris and Ray skated with their father’s Avalanche teammates and played hockey with their children during Colorado’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2001 for what turned out to be Ray’s perfect ending to a Hall of Fame career. The Cup victory also helped propel youth hockey in the Denver area to new heights, and Ryan traveled the country playing for the Littleton Hawks before experiencing a moment of a lifetime when Avalanche captain Joe Sakic was given the Stanley Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, lifted it over his head and then handed it to Ray Bourque, who had finally realized his dream after 22 years in the NHL.

“No better way to top off his career than that,” Ryan said, the pride oozing in every word. “I was living there the whole year with my brother and my sister Melissa was back home but she came out for (the finals). And I was actually on the ice when they had the Cup presented to them. That moment is still one of the best moments of my life. To see (Sakic) give dad the Cup … It couldn’t have ended any better.”

The Bourques then moved back to the Boston area, and Ray began coaching his sons and then assisted Steve Jacobs at Cushing Academy with Bill Troy. Ryan then played two years for the U.S. national team that he called “another great experience, getting the international experience and what I learned on and off the ice.”

But Ryan and Chris then headed in different directions. Chris went the college route, attending Boston University for one year before being a second-round pick of the Washington Capitals in 2004. Ryan elected the junior path with the Remparts.

“I was committed to the University of New Hampshire, it was unreal being recruited there, and (coach) Richard Umile is just one of the best guys I’ve ever met in hockey,” Ryan said. “But when it came down to it and being 18 and weighing all my options and trying to decide what was best for my career, it turned out that going to Quebec with the schedule and the organization that they have there and to be able to be coached by Patrick and the staff that they have there, it was just better for my development as a player.

“To be able to play that amount of games and just even the junior style of hockey is more similar to the pro game in comparison to the college game, so for me personally it was the best decision that I could make. Even the playoffs, with the best-of-seven series, is done like the NHL and AHL, so you’re preparing yourself to play at the ultimate level and your ultimate goal.”

It has proven to be quite the sound decision for Bourque, whose maturity belies he’s only 20, an obvious by-product of the strong guidance from his father and his brother.

In two seasons with the Remparts, the energetic, tenacious, versatile and defensively strong Bourque has 45 goals, 57 assists and was plus-26 in 93 games. More significantly, Bourque has excelled on the international scene, winning a gold and bronze medal in both the World Under-18 Hockey Championships and World Junior Hockey Championships.

Bourque won gold in the 2010 Worlds while playing with fellow Rangers draft picks Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider. This year, Bourque was an alternate captain and again played with Kreider on Team USA, which won bronze. Stepan would have been on the team again, but he was playing on Broadway, having left the University of Wisconsin after his sophomore year after he and defenseman Ryan McDonagh led the Badgers to the NCAA title game, where they lost 5-0 to Boston College, led by Kreider, the Rangers’ first-round pick (19th overall) in 2009.

“We’re good buddies, and he has helped me a bunch through this process,” Bourque said of Stepan, the Rangers’ fourth-leading scorer as a rookie with 21 goals and 24 assists in all 82 games who saw time on the second power-play unit. “It’s funny that with me playing junior, I was able to experience a pro training camp before he was since he was playing as a sophomore in college. So last year he was asking me for tips, but texting and calling him this year, he’s been awesome with just what he did, though I had no doubt in my mind that he was going to be able to do that. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever played with and just knows exactly where to be on the ice. I think the season and the success he had speaks for itself.”

While Stepan was excelling at the highest level, Bourque had career highs in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59) in 49 regular-season games and then added five goals and 11 assists in 19 playoff games. While with the Remparts, Bourque played in many places where his father had played, and he took special pleasure in visiting the Verdun Black Hawks, who play in the same arena where his father played in Verdun, Quebec.

Augmenting that enjoyment was that while Bourque was putting up his best numbers ever this winter, he signed a three-year, entry-level deal with the Rangers on March 16. Bourque was expected to join the Whale after the Remparts’ playoff run ended, but the Whale finished before the Remparts.

So Bourque had to wait to renew acquaintances with Whale coach Ken Gernander and assistants J.J. Daigneault and Pat Boller at his third appearance at the Rangers’ prospects camp June 28-July 2. Not surprisingly, Bourque was one of the standouts in the camp.

“It was his third camp, so we’ve watched him grow and become a coach’s dream,” Rangers assistant general manager and Whale GM Schoenfeld said.

“Being my third year, you kind of know what to expect and have to be in shape for the (skating) tests (on the first day),” Bourque said. “Since I came here three years ago, I’ve gotten stronger and smarter and more mature as a hockey player. When you come in as a first-year guy, you just try to soak everything in. You see a beautiful atmosphere and beautiful building with all the amenities that you need as a player. It’s almost surreal your first year, but coming in your second and third year, you get to see new faces and almost act like a leader and try to help those new faces ease into the organization. I tried to do that to the best of my ability, and after the first day (of tests), it’s fun scrimmaging with the guys and getting to know new players.”

Bourque believes that he can fit in with more new players on Broadway and excel in the uptempo style of Rangers coach John Tortorella. But he’ll be happy to take it one step at a time.

“Obviously the NHL is my ultimate goal, and every kid’s dream is to play in the NHL,” Bourque said. “But looking at it realistically, I’m a young kid who is going to try to train to the best of my ability this summer and get as strong as I possibly can. But if they decide to send me down to Connecticut, I know I’ll be in a great place with the coaching staff they have. The Rangers organization in general is first class, and just the track record that they’ve had developing players, I know I’ll be in a good spot no matter what, whether I start with the Rangers or go to Connecticut.”

Though Bourque filled in on defense one day during the prospects camp because of injuries, he isn’t about to try to impersonate a father who was one of the best all-time at that position.

“I try to stay away from that,” Ryan said with a smile. “I’ve always liked scoring goals and setting them up, not defending them. But I’m not shy to play in my own end either. I think I’m really hard worker who brings a lot of energy but at the same time can be counted on in all situations. That’s what I try to mold my game as, trying to be the best I can in all situations offensively and defensively. I think when you’re that versatile it helps out your chances a lot and helps out your team a lot.”

The Whale and Rangers are counting on it.

MILLION DOLLAR ACE FOR SAKIC

Sakic sure picked the right time for his first hole-in-one, winning $1 million Sunday by making an ace on the par-3 17th at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship at Lake Tahoe in Stateline, Nev.

The former NHL MVP and two-time Stanley Cup champion used an 8-iron on the 162-yard hole where dozens of yachts and boats anchor during the annual three-day tournament.

Sakic pocketed half the check, with the other $500,000 going to Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation for cancer research. The money comes from an insurance policy purchased by the event’s sponsor.

RANGERS FIRST-ROUND PICK TO PLAY FOR WHALERS

Forward J.T. Miller, the Rangers’ first-round pick (15th overall) in June, has decided to play for the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers – no relation to the Hartford Whalers or Connecticut Whale – rather than the University of North Dakota, which lost six of its top seven scorers to graduation or the pros.

Miller, 18, a standout for the Pittsburgh Hornets Under-18 and U.S. national development programs, should have a better chance to play for the Rangers in 2012-13 because of more games and tougher competition in the OHL, though Boston College wing Chris Kreider, the Rangers’ top prospect, and University of Wisconsin center Derek Stepan and defenseman Ryan McDonagh progressed brilliantly through the college ranks.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Miller has 26 goals and 42 assists in 95 games in two seasons with the U.S. national development team and led it to a third consecutive gold medal in the World Under-18 Championship with four goals and nine assists in six games this year. The native of East Palestine, Ohio, grew up in Pittsburgh and has become familiar with the Rangers because they play in the same division with his favorite team, the hometown Penguins.

“I’m a pretty competitive kid,” Miller said when drafted June 25 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. “I always want to compete, and I’m pretty hard to play again, so I think that’s my best attribute.” … A Tuesday Twitter from defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who split last season between the Rangers and Whale and has recovered from a broken finger and sports hernia surgery: “Skated with (wing Christian Thomas) today. Kid’s looking good. Between Thomas and (wing Carl) Hagelin, I’m really excited to see what these young kids do in camp this year. Veterans such as (Sean) Avery, (Erik) Christiensen and (Wojtek) Wolski are going to be pushed real hard for roster spots.” Hagelin joined the Whale after co-captaining Michigan to the NCAA title game in April. Thomas, son of 18-year NHL wing Steve Thomas, scored 105 goals in the last two seasons with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals. But because Thomas is 19, he has to make the Rangers or return to Oshawa this season. … Former Wolf Pack forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan, the Rangers’ two leading scorers last season, are scheduled for salary arbitration on Thursday and July 28. They are the last two restricted free agents the Rangers need to sign. Center Brian Boyle and two former Wolf Pack players, center Artem Anisimov and defenseman Michael Sauer, already signed new contracts. Dubinsky’s sticking point reportedly is length of contract, not money. All parties would be better off if deals are done before arbitration, where bitterness can develop because teams are forced to downplay a player’s importance to try to keep the bill down. The Rangers are also in the market for a veteran defenseman, with possible holdover Steve Eminger a leading candidate. Other top unrestricted free-agent defensemen still available include Bryan McCabe, who finished last season with the Rangers after being acquired for Whale center Tim Kennedy and a third-round pick on Feb. 26, Nick Boynton (Philadelphia), Scott Hannan (Washington), Steve Staios (Calgary), Jack Hillen (New York Islanders), Karlis Skrastins (Dallas) and Brent Sopel and Paul Mara (Montreal).

FORMER WOLF PACK DEFENSEMAN RE-SIGNED BY ISLANDERS

Defenseman Dylan Reese, a seventh-round pick of the Rangers in 2003, was one of three players to accept qualifying offers from the Islanders and sign one-year, two-way contracts.

Center Michael Haley and defenseman Ty Wishart, who also spent part of last season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, were the others to sign deals with the parent team.

Reese, 26, had four assists in his first 10 pro games with the Wolf Pack in 2007 after completing his collegiate career at Harvard. He had six assists in 27 games with the Islanders and four goals and 14 assists in 37 games with the Sound Tigers last season. He was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets late in the 2009-10 season.

Haley, 25, had two goals and one assist in 27 games with the Islanders and six goals and eight assists in 67 games with the Sound Tigers.

Wishart, 23, a first-round pick (16th overall) of the San Jose Sharks in 2006, was acquired in a Jan. 1 trade that sent goalie Dwayne Roloson to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had his first NHL goal and four assists in 20 games with the Islanders last season after getting four goals and 23 assists in 51 games with the Sound Tigers and Norfolk Admirals.

KINGS RE-SIGN FORMER YALE FORWARD

Former Yale forward David Meckler was one of six players the Los Angeles Kings signed to one-year contracts.

Forward Trevor Lewis signed a two-year deal, while forwards Marc-Andre Cliché, a second-round pick of the Rangers in 2005 who never played for the organization, and Richard Clune, defensemen Patrick Mullen and Andrew Campbell and goalie Jeff Zatkoff also inked one-year deals.

Meckler, 24, a fifth-round pick of the Kings in 2006, had 16 goals and 17 assists in 75 games with the Manchester Monarchs last season. Cliché, the Monarchs captain, had 14 goals and 21 assists in 63 games after starting last season late because of offseason knee surgery. … Former Wolf Pack forward and captain Greg Moore has signed with Augsburger of the German Elite League.

DINEEN’S PREDECESSOR BECOMES LEMAIRE’S SUCCESSOR

Pete DeBoer, replaced by former Whalers icon and captain Kevin Dineen as coach of the Florida Panthers on June 1, was named coach of the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.

DeBoer, 43, fired April 11 after missing the playoffs in all three seasons with the Panthers, his first NHL head job, succeeds Jacques Lemaire, who retired after the Devils’ season finale April 10. Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello asked Lemaire to reconsider, but Lemaire has remained steadfast with his decision.

Lemarie replaced rookie coach and former Devils wing John MacLean on Dec. 23 after the team lost seven of eight games and were 10-29-2 at midseason. Lemaire led the Devils on a late 23-3-2 run that put them in position for a 14th consecutive playoff berth before they fell short. … The Devils signed former Wolf Pack wing Chad Wiseman, forwards Vladimir Zharkov, Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton and Adam Larsson, the top defenseman and fourth overall pick in the June draft, and acquired a fifth-round pick in 2012 from the Calgary Flames for left wing/enforcer Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond. Wiseman had 16 goals and 28 assists in 48 games with the Albany Devils last season, while Zharkov split time between Albany and New Jersey, where he had two goals and two assists in 38 games. Janssen and Boulton are known more for their fisticuffs then skills, and Leblond took an ill-advised instigation penalty in the final five minutes of New Jersey’s second game last season, earning an automatic one-game suspension when the team was already at a minimum roster because of the salary cap. He was quickly waived, sent to Albany and never returned to the NHL.

FORMER FALCONS COACH NAMED STARS ASSISTANT

Former Springfield Falcons coach Jeff Truitt has been named assistant coach of the Dallas Stars, joining newly appointed head coach Jeff Pyle. Truitt joins the Stars after spending last season as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Rampage, who had their best record in four seasons (40-33-4-5).

In 2009-10, Truitt was the director of director of hockey operations for the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors, whose top players included defenseman Dylan McIlrath, the Rangers’ first-round pick (10th overall) in 2010 who finished last with the Whale. The Warriors were 33-27-0-12 and reached the WHL playoffs. Before joining Moose Jaw, Truitt was an assistant coach with the Falcons in 2007-08 and then served as head coach for the first 50 games of the 2008-09 season, posting a 16-27-6-1 record. … Detroit Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood retired Tuesday after a 17-year NHL career in which he had 401 victories and 50 shutouts in 744 NHL games with the Red Wings, Islanders and Blues but will remain with the team as a goalie consultant. Groin injuries limited the 38-year-old Osgood to only 11 games last season backing up Jimmy Howard. He was 5-3-2 with a 2.77 goals-against average and .903 save percentage and had sports hernia surgery in January. Osgood ranks eighth with 74 playoffs wins with 15 shutouts and won three Stanley Cups, two as a starter in 1998 and 2008, and led the Red Wings to Game 7 of the 2009 finals. The Red Wings are expected to sign former Wolf Pack goalie Ty Conklin as a backup to Howard. They re-signed Joey McDonald to a two-year contract July 11 after he considered signing with a Russian team, but they haven’t found a more tested goalie to share time with Howard.

CONGRATULATIONS

Congratulations to Tim Leone of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, Binghamton Senators director of broadcasting Grady Whittenburg and Jamie Staton of WMUR-TV in Manchester, N.H., on winning the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Awards in their respective categories for their outstanding media coverage of the league.

Leone has covered the Hershey Bears since 1995 and recently expanded his reach to on-line media. He wrote more than 180 stories for publication in the 2010-11 season, posted an additional 100-plus entries to his blog at PennLive.com and provided more than 1,500 Twitter followers with frequent breaking-news updates. He also authored a special 16-page season preview section, produced in-depth coverage of the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic in Hershey and took his expertise to the airwaves, co-hosting a 10-week radio show on ESPN-1400 in Harrisburg to help promote the event.

Whittenburg just completed his eighth season covering the Senators and had the added pleasure this season of broadcasting their first run to a Calder Cup title. Staton, the sports director and weekday sports anchor at WMUR, has covered the Monarchs since they began operations 10 years ago. He also has helped the Monarchs Care Foundation, the charitable arm of the Monarchs, raise money for several local charities through the foundation’s live auctions and is the emcee for the annual Ace Bailey Golf Classic.

The James H. Ellery Memorial Awards, first presented in 1964, honor the late Ellery, who was the AHL’s secretary and publicity director for 17 years.

Well done, Tim, Grady and Jamie.

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