Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Phil Bourque

Playing defense throughout his junior and early minor league career, Phil Bourque made an impact on the left wing of the Pittsburgh Penguins checking line during their championship season in the early 1990s.

Bourque played junior in the OHL for two seasons but was never drafted. He was signed by the Penguins in 1982 as a free agent. He played almost exclusively in the Pens minor league system for the next 6 years, gradually improving to the point that he was named as the IHL's most outstanding defenseman in 1988. It was after that great season in Muskegon that Phil was elevated to the NHL on a full time basis.

However he didn't find a regular spot on the Pens blueline, but rather patrolling left wing. Why? Two reasons - he was an aggressive player who loved to hit, but too often he put himself out of position to make the physical play. Secondly, he was a poor skater in terms of mobility and agility. He had great straight ahead speed and that could be better utilized on the wing.

With his speed and tenacity, Bourque proved to be a good forechecker and penalty killer. His upbringing as a defenseman made him a naturally defensive forward, but he added some surprising offense - twice scoring 20 goals.

Phil played an important role in both of the Pens Stanley Cup victories in 1991 and 1992. On a crash and bang defensive line with Troy Loney and Bob Errey, Bourque did a lot of the mucking and grinding for the more skilled players on the Pens team. He also would take an occasional shift on the blueline when the Pens were in a pinch.

The New York Rangers signed the hard working Bourque as a free agent for the 1992-93 season, but he struggled to put up the numbers he did in Pittsburgh. This led to his trading to the lowly Ottawa Senators early the following season. By this time however Bourque's best days were over, and he actually ended his North American pro career in the minors, unable to make the expansion Senators squad. He also spent some time in Europe after his NHL career was over. Perhaps he was happy to soldier on in the game he loved because he nearly died in a hiking accident in the summer of 1994.

All said, Phil Bourque transformed himself from a NHL long shot to a two time Stanley Cup champion who played in 477 NHL games with 88 goals, 111 assists and 199 points. He was a hard working and honest player. Pittsburgh fans always appreciated the zestful contributions of "the ol' two-niner."

By the way, Phil Bourque is of no relation to Hall of Fame defenseman Raymond Bourque. However, when people ask if his brother is Ray Bourque, fun-loving Phil often answers with a yes. Why? Because he does have a brother named Raymond - just not that Raymond Bourque!

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