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Son burst

Once he arrived on scene at BU, it took Bourque no time to excel

Reverence only goes so far, lasts only so long on the shelf. The Bourque name, cherished in Boston for more than a quarter-century, was chiseled into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November. But on many nights this winter, Christopher Bourque learned, the family brand displayed on his back served more as a lightning rod for catcalls and taunts than a free pass into the hearts of those who loved Raymond.

It's not a burden being Bourque, but it is what it is, a legacy to live up to and the easiest of starting points for fans of the opposition to try to get the Boston University freshman winger off his game. For instance, the Northeastern crowd at last month's Beanpot, incessantly chanting, "Bourque's adopted!," a variation of the far more routine and unimaginative, "You're not your father!"

"It's always something new," said Christopher, his impish grin speaking for how he has learned to handle the diss from the dissidents in the crowd. "I love it. Really, it's wicked funny, and when it's something new, that cracks me up. That's how I look at it. Besides that, I guess, I'm out there playing -- and they're sitting in the crowd."

The 19-year-old Bourque will be out there tonight when the Terriers (21-11-4) take on the Providence College Friars (11-19-4) in the opening round of the Hockey East playoffs at BU's Agganis Arena. A left wing who often switches to point duty on the power play, Bourque finished sixth in Terrier scoring (9-12--21) this season and led all Red-and-White shooters with 101 shots -- impressive initial steps in one of the country's elite programs and conferences.

"I said from Day 1 that he'd get a lot of ink," said Terriers coach Jack Parker, who turns 60 today. "But that would be the case if the name on his back was Burke instead of Bourque. You can't help but notice him out there."

A compact and sturdy 5 feet 9 inches, Bourque did not inherit the family franchise's height or oak-tree legs, or widebody derriere. He also chose offense over defense, for the reasons most young wings and pivots move to the front line -- the sheer joy of putting the puck in the back of the net. Dad wasn't flashy, but his play nonetheless brilliant, a metronomic blend of near-perfect execution, strength, and intelligence. His eldest son got some of that, especially the on-ice savvy, and has developed a stray "edge" gene that gives his game speed, grit, and courage.

"That's what stands out most about Chris -- his edge," said former Bruin forward Bruce Crowder, Northeastern's coach. "He's feisty, sometimes chippy, and that attitude should serve him well when he tries to get to the next level [NHL]. That's really important. Hey, we've all seen great talents come and go, and later asked, `Why didn't he make it?' It often comes down to that edge and work factor. Over the years, I've worked camps with Ray and Steve [Kasper], and Chris was in a lot of those. Every day, every single day, he worked at getting better."

The training began early. Chris was barely out of Pull-Ups when his dad first brought him to Causeway Street and suited him up for skate-and-shoot sessions following Bruins practices at the Garden. Dad was on his way to the Hall of Fame and 2-year-old Chris was on his way down the wing, a honey-I-shrunk-the-icon replica of the old man, with the near-comic ability to regain his feet a split-second after sprawling to the ice.

As far as dreams went, Chris was fast on Dad's track, hoping one day to make it to the NHL. Meanwhile, Ray had a broader dream, one that also included a college education. When the time came for Chris to start charting his career and academic course, according to Ray, the family decision was that college was a mandatory part of the package.

"If he could walk out of here with a degree, that would be awesome," Ray said last week, sitting in an Agganis suite while BU and New Hampshire fought to a 4-4 tie. "I mean, as a parent, you wish that on all your kids, and yeah, he's a hockey player, but the schoolwork is a big part of his being here. If you've got something in your pocket -- that degree -- that can go a long way. It can be worth more to you than what happens with your hockey career."

Many days, according to Chris, the academics are a greater challenge than anything he has faced on the ice. In many ways, his freshman season has met or surpassed his expectations. He gets loads of ice time. He played for Team USA at the midseason World Junior Championship, and rebounded impressively after injuring a knee in that tournament. Increased point duty on the power play was a bonus. But the books have brought protracted growing pains.

"It's just a thousand times harder than high school," said Chris, whose route to Commonwealth Avenue went through Cushing Academy. "Bomb just one test here and you can be in real trouble. Staying [academically] eligible is scary, and I'm not a big school guy. I'm squeaking by. But I know being here is a big deal, because no one on my father's side of the family, or on my mother's side, ever went to college."

The Washington Capitals, who selected Bourque early in the second round of last June's amateur draft, figure he'll stick with the Terriers for the full four seasons. Capitals general manager George McPhee, a proud alumnus of Bowling Green, said yesterday he isn't a fan of raiding college rosters.

"I like to see these kids enjoy the journey a little bit," said McPhee. "It's a fun time of your life. It's exciting. Heck, have fun with it."

From a few hundred miles south, McPhee has been impressed with the words his scouts have brought back from Comm. Ave. He has been particularly encouraged by the young Bourque's versatility, moving back to man the point. Whenever the scouts report in, they talk of the kid's edge.

"We saw that when we interviewed him," recalled McPhee. "It was almost funny, kind of like he didn't have any patience for the process. We're there asking questions, and he's there, saying, `I'll show you what I can do on the ice.' It was sort of this, `This is what I'm here to do' thing."

It's that attitude and accompanying talent, figures Kasper, that could carry Chris far in the pro game. Kasper, a good pal of Ray's dating back to their days playing together in Quebec junior hockey, is a player agent these days. By his eye, the NHL game could use a few Chris Bourques.

"There are all kinds of theories about what could help the game," said Kasper. "Well, if those problems exist, then look at what Chris brings: tremendous offensive skills; great on-ice imagination; he's never inclined just to dump it in and have someone chase it; he's got great hands, a great one-timer [slap shot], and great vision."

Bourque's hands, in particular, have impressed Parker. No one ever on the Terrier roster, said the legendary coach, has displayed Bourque's knack for collecting a pass. His blend of hard nose and soft hands makes for a unique package.

"The puck can be way out in front of him, or 5 feet behind him, and it doesn't matter -- he'll get it," marveled Parker. "But, hey, that said, no one's perfect. He'll take a pass sometimes, skate off, and he doesn't have the puck. I have to stop practice sometimes and say, `Chris, if you don't get the puck, stop, go back, and get it.' It's almost like he's in disbelief that he doesn't have it."

The family resemblance is strongest when Chris, manning the power play, brings the puck up ice from his goal line. His skating stride and hand movement are virtually identical to his father's, as if Bruins game tapes have been digitally beamed up the Charles River and spliced onto the Terrier back line. Last week against UNH, he traveled coast to coast on one of those rushes and shoveled off a goalmouthshot that Bryan Ewing, his best pal from Cushing, hammered home for a 4-2 lead.

"People say they see similarities, but I don't know about that," said the elder Bourque, similarly disinclined to boast about his son as he was about his own game. "But I do know that he does a lot of things well out there. He makes good reads, good decisions. And he's getting better."

The name on his back reads the same, but Chris did not inherit his dad's number. He wears No. 19, a number he has worn since youth hockey, because he admires many of the 19s who have been stars in the NHL -- including Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, and Joe Thornton. Sporting his dad's No. 7 or No. 77 never was an option.

"That's not me," said Chris. "I'm trying to make my own identity. And besides, that's my dad's number. It's retired. It's retired in our family, too."

Let the record show, too, that it was a certain winger who for years wore No. 8 for the Bruins who most captured the imagination of this Bourque's generation.

"Cam Neely was probably my favorite Bruin," said Chris. "He did everything. He fought. He scored. He killed people, the way he checked and fought. He set up goals and scored some others that were just unbelievable to watch. All in all, I'd say he was the perfect hockey player."

Point being, all of us, no matter the roots of our family tree, have our favorite players. Just don't let anyone think for a Comm. Ave. second that this Bourque ever wasted a second wishing his roots traced anywhere else.

"I've never wished he wasn't my dad," said Chris, reflecting for a moment before the start of practice last week. "I often wish, though, that I'd grown up in Montreal, because that's where all our family is -- aunts, uncles, everyone. I love seeing them when we're up there, and I think that would have been a great experience. But there's never been a day when I've wished my dad wasn't who he is because, you know, if he wasn't who he is, I wouldn't be who I am."

That's the kind of shelf life that lasts a lifetime.

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