The number 1 hockey fan in Canada called NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on his cell phone with 10 minutes left in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, requesting not one of those nifty caps inscribed MISSION 16W or even one of the 77 MISSION ACCOMPLISHED versions that would appear in the bedlam of the Colorado Avalanche dressing room. The fan only wanted a few moments of Raymond Bourque's time. This wasn't going to be easy—the crush of television reporters first had to get a word from Bourque—but league officials were determined to make it happen, eventually thrusting a beige phone into Bourque's hand in a curtained alcove off the interview area.
"Oui, Monsieur Chr�tien" Bourque said.
For the next three minutes or so, Bourque explained to the Prime Minister of Canada how happy he is to be a French Canadian whose name soon would be engraved on the Stanley Cup, that no, he didn't quit pursuing his dream, and yes, he was extremely proud. Then he thanked Jean Chr�tien and hung up. "What did the Prime Minister say to you?" Bourque was asked.
"He told me that if I was ever in Ottawa, I should stop by."
Everybody loves Raymond in Ottawa. They love him in Denver, where friends decorated his driveway with signs of support and where one thoughtless neighbor displaying a New Jersey Devils banner found his backyard festooned with toilet paper. They love him in Montreal, where he grew up. They love him in Boston, the city he played in for more than 20 years before asking out 15 months ago to chase the dream, a city in which TV ratings for the Cup finals were higher than they were in the New York City area, home to the New Jersey Devils. They love him in the Avalanche dressing room, so much so that protocol was gleefully violated when Joe Sakic passed the Cup directly to Bourque at center ice without taking the traditional captain's spin around the rink. From Canada to Colorado, Bourque's quest to get his name on the Cup practically turned him into a cottage industry, although no cottage could have held the 23 family members who were at the Pepsi Center last Saturday to witness the Avalanche's clinching 3-1 victory.
In a flash of uncharacteristic audacity but typical generosity, Bourque had telephoned one of his sisters, Lise Desmarais, in suburban Montreal on June 5 after Colorado had fallen behind the defending champion Devils three games to two. Bourque invited Desmarais and her husband, James, to New Jersey for Game 6 and then to Denver to see the Avalanche win the Cup on home ice. "He calls," Desmarais says, "we go."
Bourque's extended family, which seemingly encompassed the entire hockey world (but didn't get hotel rooms in Manhattan and Denver on his tab), was almost as moved as his relatives were by the conclusion of a journey that began 1,826 NHL games ago, spanned 22 years and touched four decades. There was grace to the final victory lap, and whenever Bourque saw it drifting into the maudlin, he mentioned his teammates, notably goalie Patrick Roy, who proved more than a mere diversion to the nonstop Ray-o-thon by saving 49 of a combined 50 shots in Games 6 and 7 The Stanley Cup, the most coveted piece of silverware in North American sports, celebrates the team over the individual, but perhaps for the first time in its 109-year history, the chalice was about one man, a 40-year-old defenseman with a graying goatee who never had anything handed to him—at least not until Sakic pressed the object of desire in his hands. Bourque raised the Cup over his head, the weight of careerlong expectations replaced by 34� pounds of sterling. He was shocked. "Maybe it's because I'm old or I was tired," he said, "but it felt really heavy."
The snapshot of Bourque, one of the most popular players of his generation, bench-pressing the Cup to the heavens will serve as the lasting image of the 2001 finals. In the history books this series will look more like a classic than it did on the ice. Except for a furious first period, the Avalanche and the Devils didn't play Game 7 as if it were the deciding game of the Stanley Cup finals, though you might have expected that two superb teams that had failed to provide a compelling game through the first six would seize their last chance to set things right.
This series had no more discernable pattern than a toddler's finger painting. It was seemingly random hockey, producing no signature moment beyond the near Bucknerian puckhandling gaffe in Game 4 by Roy, who is now a four-time Stanley Cup winner and who occasionally handles the puck like a stevedore unloading a freighter. Colorado defenseman Rob Blake theorized on Saturday morning that when each team was playing its best defensively, it was nearly impossible for the other club to play well. That notion would not be challenged in Game 7 after left wing Alex Tanguay, a second-year sniper better known for having boarded in Roy's basement last year than for his six goals and 15 assists in the 2001 playoffs, scored die first two goals, and the Avalanche clamped down. New Jersey never found its way to the front of Roy's crease and back into the game.
Since falling behind the Philadelphia Flyers three games to one in the Eastern Conference finals a year ago, the Devils had seemed to revel in replaying The Perils of Pauline, in which the heroine is tied to the railroad tracks by a mustache-twirling cad, then saved at the last minute. On Saturday night the locomotive was Roy's exemplary play (he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP for a record third time) and Sakic's second-period goal 25 seconds after Devils defenseman Sean O'Donnell had high-sticked wing Shjon Podein. It was the type of inane penalty that had exasperated New Jersey coach Larry Robinson throughout the playoffs, and his remarks had been particularly pointed after the 4-0 home loss in Game 6. With the Meadowlands parking lot ready to be turned into paradise, with talk of a parade that would swing by the proposed site for a new arena in Newark, Robinson was reduced to skewering his team after the second period, then taking his diatribe public after the match. "Tonight they kicked our butts and rubbed our faces in it," Robinson said, a graphic if not quite accurate account of a disturbing game for New Jersey.