Talented Bourque taps into potential

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

Reclamation projects are a thing of the past.

For the Calgary Flames, the future is in its youth.

Experiencing a start that has even himself a little surprised, Rene Bourque is a prime example of the type of player GM Darryl Sutter has opted to put his trust in these days instead of the likes of retreads such as Tony Amonte, Jeff Friesen, Owen Nolan, Todd Bertuzzi and Darren McCarty.

Those old-timers joined the Flames with their glory days behind them, but the hope was they could capture just enough of the old magic to contribute on and off the ice.

Grown-up enough to lead in that fashion now is the Flames core group of players, allowing Sutter to bring in guys who have plenty of potential yet to be tapped.

Bourque is just realizing his, following up a 21-goal, 40-point breakout campaign in only 58 games last year with four goals and a team-leading 11 points through the first nine contests of his second season with the Flames.

Finding himself at the top of heap on the most potent offensive squad in the NHL so far even raises the 27-year-old's eyebrows.

"A little bit," Bourque said when asked if he was surprised. "Some points you just get -- even if you don't make a great play, the puck finds its way into the net. I've been lucky to get a few of those."

Although the modest Lac La Biche product would probably rather avoid attention, Bourque is in the spotlight.

He certainly got little of it during his lone year of junior hockey with the AJHL's St. Albert Saints.

Putting up 44 goals and 85 points in 63 games got him a hockey scholarship to the University of Wisconsin but didn't get him drafted into the NHL.

Instead, he bided his time and grew his game and frame with the Badgers.

"College hockey is a lot different than pro hockey. I was a good college player, but I didn't put up a lot of points or anything," Bourque said. "It's a different game. Big ice surface. A lot of little guys running around at 100 miles an hour."

It's Bourque who looks like he's running around at incredible speeds now -- the former Badger playing like one of those carnivores angered at someone poking around its burrow.

"I think the pro game definitely fits my style more," Bourque said.

He found out quickly after signing with the Chicago Blackhawks as an undrafted free agent in July of 2004.

Playing the lockout season with the Norfolk Admirals, Bourque scored a franchise-record 33 goals and led the team with 60 points to earn the AHL's outstanding rookie award before joining the 'Hawks full-time.

The finance degree Bourque earned in college could come in handy if he keeps up his high-scoring ways and isn't locked up before becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Bourque's only curse has been a rash of injuries that come in part because of the physical style he plays.

A high-ankle sprain kept him out of the last 24 games of last season and required additional surgery this summer.

"I don't know if it will ever get back to 100% in terms of range of motion," Bourque said. "But it's feeling pretty good."

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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