He comes into the locker room every night to talk to the reporters. No matter what. The other players on the Boston Bruins mostly avoid that scene these days, dressing in a hurry in another room at the FleetCenter, leaving with their hair still wet from the shower, gone before the embarrassing questions can be asked about another loss. Raymond Bourque always appears. He is the constant.
"Raymond, what happened on that third goal? Was it deflected?"
"Raymond, the team seemed a little flat tonight. How could it be flat?"
He stands in front of his locker with a towel wrapped around his waist. The reporters surround him, completing a familiar picture filled with microphones and nodding heads. In his early years in pro hockey, he was almost overwhelmingly shy, fearing these moments far more than a three-on-two rush by the Montreal Canadiens, but he has beaten that back, overcome it with time. He speaks easily now, in a soft, unemotional voice. There simply is not much to say.
"You keep telling the same stories, saying the same things," Bourque says as the elevator keeps going down, as the young Bruins, their roster filled with obscure names, fall closer and closer to missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in 30 years. "I'd rather not come out and talk. I'd rather just play, have fun, go home and be with my family. But I do what I have to." No complaints. No whining.
He could be excused from this nightly ritual of self-flagellation—excused because he is 36 years old, excused because he has been named either a first-or second-team All-Star in his 17 full seasons with the Bruins, excused because he recently became the team's alltime leading scorer (a remarkable feat for a defenseman), excused because he is playing as well as ever—but excuses are not part of his package. If this is where he is supposed to be, answering the difficult questions, then this is where he is.
Good times or bad, he is the same. He is always the same. That is his strength.
"Guys come up to me, and they say, 'Raymond's playing as well now as he ever did,' " Bruins president and general manager Harry Sinden says. "I say, 'You told me the same thing last year. You've been telling me the same thing every year now for 18 years.' "
Eighteen years? Can it be that long?