2001 Stanley Cup Finals
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Living vicariously

Bruins fans settle for favorite prodigal son's success

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Posted: Wednesday June 13, 2001 3:16 PM
Updated: Thursday June 14, 2001 4:24 AM
  Ray Bourque Ray Bourque holds up the Stanley Cup at a rally at City Hall Plaza in Boston to honor him. AP

BOSTON (AP) -- Ray Bourque did Wednesday what he and the Bruins failed to do for 20 years: bring the Stanley Cup to Boston.

The thousands who cheered wildly as Bourque raised the Cup in City Hall Plaza cared little that it was on loan from the winners in Colorado, Bourque's new team. After the hometown Bruins missed the playoffs for the second straight year, a vicarious win was the best they could hope for.

"He never forgot the Bruins after he left for Colorado," said Colleen Niven of Billerica, Mass., a 10-year Bruins season-ticket holder. "He kept talking about Boston as his home, so we should be here to support him."

Bourque played more than 20 seasons in Boston but requested a trade 15 months ago in hopes of winning an NHL title. He finally got it Saturday night, when the Avalanche, beat the New Jersey Devils 3-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

During the series, this championship-starved city barely noticed that Colorado was 2,000 miles away. Newspapers here covered the series as though the Avalanche were the hometown team, and TV ratings for Game 7 were higher than anywhere but Denver.

Bourque, 40, who lives north of Boston in Topsfield, told fans their enthusiasm showed they understood why he'd had to leave.

"This is home for me and my family. I had some great years with the Bruins, but I'd never come really close to Stanley, my friend," Bourque told the crowd, pointing to the trophy. "But to touch this, we felt there was a move that had to be made."

Boston fans loved Bourque's work ethic and his nice-guy image, and nobody in the crowd seemed to begrudge him his decision to leave.

"He devoted 20 years of his life to us," said Bob McNaught, an account executive at a downtown Boston copy store and lifelong Bruins fan. "We couldn't get him what every hockey player dreams of."

Stock brokers, secretaries and construction workers - some on lunch break, some malingering - all crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in downtown Boston to cheer Bourque. Police estimated the crowd at more than 15,000.

"Too nice a day, too much of a defining moment in sports history," said Mike Schuster of Foxboro, taking the day off from work and wearing a 'Puckhead' hat, an old Bourque Bruins jersey and face paint.

Some impatiently shouted for Bourque during Mayor Thomas Menino's brief introduction and called out, 'Ray for mayor!'

Many said it was easy to pull for Bourque, even in another team's uniform.

"To see all the years Ray Bourque has put into hockey, it's not about the team, it's about the man," said Wendy Keans, who came by train from Salem, 15 miles north of Boston, to see Bourque.

But the irony of celebrating another team's victory wasn't lost on some fans, who said Bourque could have won the Cup in Boston if he'd gotten enough help from the front office.

"You could blame Boston management for this scene," McNaught said. "It was the supporting cast below him that didn't allow him to get the Cup."

The Bruins went to the finals twice during Bourque's stay, but never extended the series beyond five games. Their last finals appearance was in 1990.

The only thing fans didn't agree on was whether Bourque should retire. The Denver Post reported Tuesday that Bourque has decided to stop playing, although Bourque said he plans to take two or three weeks to decide whether he wants to continue.

"He should retire on top, like John Elway and Michael Jordan," said John Daugherty, a Boston health inspector. But Faith Stokar, taking a day off from her job in Waltham, said she'd like to see him come back and play a final year with the Bruins.

Bourque left fans with a tease.

"I really do think you guys are going to experience this, and you deserve one," he said.

 
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Ray Bourque thanks Bostonians for understanding what he had to do to finally meet "Stanley." (334 K)
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