After hot start, Rene Bourque could be real difference-maker for Team Canada

Team Canada management group member Martin Brodeur on HC at Noon to discuss a couple of players that have really impressed him that the NHL might not necessarily know or remember.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea – Rene Bourque barely stepped off the ice following his two-goal showing in Canada’s 5-1 win over Switzerland in its Pyeongchang Games opener when a doping official pulled him aside, took him to a testing room and demanded a sample.

Welcome to the Olympics.

“They said it was random. I don’t know about that, I was the only one in there,” Bourque said with a wry grin Friday after a brisk practice at the Gangneung Hockey Centre’s training facility. “That’s a part of it, it’s never fun, I never could go to the bathroom when someone tells you to go. I had to wait for a couple of hours after the team left and it was a late night. Hopefully that was my last one.”

Wait, two hours?

“Yeah,” he replied sheepishly. “It took a while.”

Ultimately, no biggie, especially since Bourque dedicated his entire season to winning a spot on the Canadian roster and playing in these Olympics.

The 36-year-old from Lac La Biche, Alta., played 65 games last season with the Colorado Avalanche, his sixth stop in a 12-year NHL career that included stints with the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens, and afterwards wasn’t certain what he would do.

Some NHL teams showed interest in Bourque, who has 163 goals and 153 assists in 725 games under his belt, “but nothing was guaranteed, so I was like, ‘It’s time for a change.’”

That’s when Bourque picked up the phone and called Sean Burke, general manager of the Canadian national team, and tried to figure out how he might make the Olympic squad.

“I said, ‘Hey, I’m really interested, what are you looking for, what do you need?’” Bourque recalled. “We chatted for half an hour, we played against each other back in the day, nothing was ever guaranteed. What he told me is, ‘You’ve got to go find a team to play on and we’ll come watch, but you’ve got to put in the work to get here.’ It was a very honest conversation, he was very up front and it was my job, my duty to go earn a spot on this team.”

Bourque signed with Djurgardens in Sweden, where he has 13 goals and eight assists, and played for Canada in the Karjala Cup and Channel One Cup in the leadup to the Games to win a spot on the roster.

He wasted little time making an impact, cleverly deflecting a Chris Lee slap-pass from the point to open the scoring 2:57 into the first period. He was in front of Swiss goalie Leonardo Genoni a few minutes later when Maxim Noreau’s point shot found a hole and on a power play in the second period, took a smart pass from Derek Roy and slid the puck in.

“I thought Bourque had a good game, he’s a big presence for us,” said head coach Willie Desjardins. “This is a tournament he’s looked forward to for a while, and it was great to see him get off to a start like that.”

Desjardins was similarly impressed with the rest of his team, and while he didn’t commit to a starter in net (signs at practice again pointed to Ben Scrivens), he was looking for more of the same Saturday against the Czech Republic.

“A little bit more consistency,” he said when asked for what he wanted to see more of. “We backed off a little bit as the game went on, but that would be about it.”

Bourque played on the first line centred by Roy and with Gilbert Brule on the other wing and said while he didn’t want to put too much stock into one game, there was plenty to build on.

“We were pretty disciplined,” he said. “We didn’t take too many bad penalties, Roy got caught with a high stick but that was incidental. We were able to get out of own end pretty well, our D played really well moving the puck on the breakouts and our power play came up really big. We had two quick goals on the power play and that made a big difference.”

The Canadians have talked a lot about the need to score by committee but if Bourque happens to get on one of the runs he was known for during his NHL career, he could end up being a real difference-maker.

“Everybody grows up watching the Olympics,” said Bourque. “I have vivid memories of when Canada lost to Sweden (in the 1994 gold-medal final), I was like, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’ I’m a huge sports fan, any sport, Summer or Winter Olympics, opening ceremonies is always something that sticks out. I wanted to be a part of something big and a part of something like that. I felt like I could be a big piece on this team and that’s how I wanted to make it.”

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