I did what with who and when now? Yes, it’s true, I had a moment of weakness. Well, it was more like several moments, about two years worth of moments. 94 games + two playoff runs worth of weak moments. I was young and dumb. I thought I was doing the right thing at first, but I realized I was wrong. That’s lame, actually, let me be totally honest. I knew it was wrong all along, but I did it anyway. My explanation will never be good enough and I’ll never expect to be understood, but my reasoning should be publicly detailed. I feel like enough time has passed where it’s important to try to clear the air, once and for all. Here’s my story.
On this day 18 years ago, Boston Bruins captain Ray Bourque, was traded to the Colorado Avalanche. At the time Bourque was a 39-year-old, 5 time Norris Trophy-winning, future Hall of Fame defenseman with no championship on his resumé. He was dealt along with winger Dave Andreychuk for winger Brian Rolston, defenseman Martin Grenier & center Samuel Pahlsson. Also included in the deal was Boston’s choice of a first-round pick in either 2000 or 2001. They used that pick in 2000 to select Martin Samuelsson with the 27th overall selection. I was just 12 years old.
I had a Colorado Avalanche sweater when I was a kid, asked for it right after their move from Quebec before the start of the 1996-97 NHL season. I was always a Bruins fan, but there was something about a brand new hockey logo, I had to own a piece of it. My mom bought me one of those cheap sweaters, you know the ones I’m talking about. That painfully nameless, numberless sweater made with that super thin, sandpapery material which made you itchy as hell. Insufferable. She bought it at least two sizes too big, in white, not purple like I had asked, but I wore it and did so with pride.
I always had a thing for those late 90s-early 00s Avalanche teams. Patrick Roy shared a birthday, October 5th, with my sister & one of my best friends (and one of my sons, later in life) and I was unaware of how badly Boston hated him, so he was my favorite player on that team. Boy, he was so good. Really, really good. Colorado had players like Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Sandis Ozolinsh, Adam Deadmarsh, Chris Drury, Milan Hejduk, Adam Foote, Landon Wilson, Claude Lemieux & Alex Tanguay — good grief, those teams were easy to like! You’ve gotta to try to understand.
Part of my affection for Colorado, and I had plenty of it, was that the Detroit Red Wings almost immediately became their rivals. I’ve always had a great time hating on teams from Detroit. I’m not positive where that stems from, but fuck ‘em. The Tigers, Pistons, Lions…all of ‘em. I definitely cheered for the Avs from afar and not too loudly, either, but enough to consider myself a fan of the team. Always second to Boston, but a fan nonetheless. I have since grown out of that lifestyle and am completely committed to the Bruins, but it didn’t make it right. I had a good thing I was jeopardizing, a great group of players to enjoy who played for my real favorite team. I just couldn’t shake Colorado. I just couldn’t let Bourque go.
Ray Bourque was my life when I was an 8-year-old. He was the sole reason I harassed my Mom for skating lessons and learned how to ice skate. I mostly played baseball when I was a kid, had zero intentions of playing hockey, but Ray Bourque could ice skate so I HAD to learn. My only exposure to the sport was watching it on TV. Nobody brought me to games, even though the baby B’s played 10 minutes from where I grew up. My older brother was the starting goalie for the local high school and I was always really proud of that. Sometimes, not often, his girlfriend would bring me to the rink. I remember watching him play, trying to learn hockey played at game speed by teenagers, without the help of a broadcast team. That is not an easy feat for a kid. On weekends and days, he wasn’t at school or work, I used to BEG him to dress in his gear, drag the hockey net into the driveway, and let me slap tennis balls at him like I was #77. I would rollerblade around the lot fist pumping acting like I just won the Stanley Cup, something I never thought would happen for Bourque. Didn’t realize it then, but I was trying to live his dream for him, that’s how much I loved Ray Bourque.
On March 7th, 2000 while watching ESPN (I have since grown out of that lifestyle, too) is when I learned of the trade. As I said, I was 12 years old and had no idea how to feel. Did they really just trade my captain? No. They couldn’t have. What does this even mean? [I had similar, more mature thoughts when Joe Thornton was traded in 2006] Can he come back to Boston next year or is this, like, it? By this time in my life, I was pretty much on my own, with nobody to really talk to about sports. I truly didn’t understand. I wasn’t privy to philosophies like “preparing for the future” and “rebuilding.”
Was I aware of the fact that Bourque had expressed interest in playing for a contender? Nope. How about the deliberateness of Bruins GM Harry Sinden to narrow down potential trade partners that gave Bourque the best chance to win a Cup? No way, that was light years ahead of my knowledge. I just knew that being traded meant you were no longer on that team. And I HATED it. I asked my neighbor, Uncle Greg, (you might remember him from a previous piece I wrote) why the Bruins did this to me.
“I don’t know, Andrew, but I’m glad we don’t have to see him as much anymore.”
Uncle Greg was a big time Habs fan and I miss the hell out of him.
I learned from that ESPN segment that the Bruins were on the verge of missing the playoffs and that they had lost two Stanley Cup Finals in 1988 and 1990 — the only times Bourque had ever made it that far. I also learned that he was entering the twilight of his career and was running out of opportunities to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup over his head. He deserved to win…at least once. After vanishing into my room to play hours of Gun Star Heroes on my Sega, I decided I was going to root like hell for the Avs to win the Cup, as long as Ray Bourque was on the team. I dug out that knock-off sweater my Mom had bought me years before and it finally fit me. I grabbed a sharpie out of the junk drawer in the kitchen, wrote BOURQUE across the back & the number 77 in the middle and wore that sick puppy to school the next day. I had turned my back on the Bruins for Ray Bourque. I was all in.
I was so in, that I became a MISERABLE human being when the Avalanche fell short against the Dallas Stars in the 1999-00 Western Conference Final. Bourque had rung a potential game-tying goal off the post in the final minutes of their game 7, and when the final horn sounded, I realized that he was never going to win a championship. It just wasn’t in the cards for him. A resounding wave of emotion, that I handled with distinct inaccuracy, overcame me. I almost felt like crawling back to the B’s, but 77’s journey was not over. I wasn’t going anywhere.
The following season, after being named an alternate captain for the Avs, Bourque helped lead them to the Stanley Cup Final. He was screwed out of his 6th Norris Trophy that year, losing to Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom, but that didn’t matter because the Avalanche went on to beat the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final. The memory of captain Joe Sakic giving the Cup to Ray to skate around with it first will forever be a top memory of mine. Bourque was the first athlete I considered to be “my favorite player of all time.” He was my Bobby Orr. My Larry Bird. Ray Bourque was Tom Brady to me.
Question: What athlete could win a championship with their new team, return to the 617 with the trophy and NOT get ran out-of-town? Answer: Ray Bourque.
Just three days after winning the Stanley Cup, he brought it to Boston and celebrated with thousands of fans at Boston’s City Hall Plaza. Could you imagine if Babe Ruth tried bringing the World Series Trophy to Boston? Would everyone be cool with Jimmy Garopollo winning a Superbowl with San Francisco and parading the Lombardi Trophy around town? Get the fook outta here. Ray Bourque is, was and forever will be a legend. He was my favorite thing about hockey before Patrice Bergeron. That trade was won by Colorado. no question. But the true winners of it all were Bourque and his fans.
If I had a chance to do it all over again, I would. That doesn’t mean I don’t love the Bruins, but it was Ray freaking Bourque, man. Go ahead, try to tell me you wouldn’t.