This doesn't mean Bourque is in imminent danger of winning the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play. "Ray's not a dirty player," says his father. Raymond Sr.. "but I never saw him back away from anybody." True enough. It's a character trait that took him off the ice for seven weeks in 1980 when Dennis Polonich of Detroit busted him in the chops during a brief tête-à-tête. "'Polonich only got one punch in. but it was a good one." Bourque recalls. 'It's tough to convince people you won a fight when the other guy breaks your jaw."'
Bourque left home at 15 to play for the Trois-Rivières Draveurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The next night, he called his father at home in St. Laurent, Quebec, 85 miles away. "Ray asked me to make a special delivery." says Raymond Sr. "He said he couldn't sleep without his pillow."
The pillow has done more than just soften blows to Bourque's psyche. When Bourque was a kid, his father would discipline the pillow instead of him, slapping it whenever he misbehaved. The pillow was also an essential part of the improvised equipment Bourque and his younger brother Ricky used in hockey games on their bedroom floor. They got on their knees and batted around a pair of rolled-up socks. Their doorway was one goal, a pair of ski boots the other. And Ricky provided the necessary sound effects: the horn, the organ music, the crowd noise. He even imitated Claude Mouton, the Montreal Forum's stentorian P.A. announcer. Occassionally the brothers wrapped pillows over their fists and pretended to brawl.
"If it was 'pretend.' how come there was so much blood?" asks Edna, the boys' stepmother.
The Bourque boys inherited their hockey sense from a grandfather. Adelard Bourque, who played competitively in New Brunswick until his mid-50's. Their father was less skilled as a player, but he was a formidable hockey disciplinarian. He would wake up at 5 a.m. to get Ray and Ricky out on the rink for a couple of hours of practice before school. A retired electrician, Raymond Sr. now works in St. Laurent as superintendent of an apartment building across the street from Saint Laurent Municipal Arena, where Bourque buzzed around in the Mosquito League at age six.
"Little Ray was lazy, for sure." says Edna, who married Raymond Sr. in 1972 after his first wife died of cancer. "He'd never pick up anything he dropped." Little has changed. Today on road trips Bourque spends afternoons in his hotel room catching up on his soaps. He watches Loving, All My Children. One Life To Live and General Hospital in succession because he doesn't have to change the channel.
It may also be that Bourque is just a creature of habit. For example, take the matter of his hair, which he wears in a style that might best be described as neo-hedgehog. Each individual lock seems to have been wired to pick up UHF, VHF and radio signals from distant galaxies. The only barber Bourque trusts to trim his tresses is a fellow named Michel at Salon Le Scalp in St. Laurent. Michel serves him coffee laced with cognac "At Christmas." Bourque says "I tell him to leave out the coffee."
Bourque's formal education ended at 15 when he dropped out of high school to devote all his time to his junior team, the Verdun Black Hawks. He was the eighth player taken in the 1979 NHL draft, having scored 22 goals and assisted on 71 others in 63 games in his final season with Verdun.
After Borque signed his contract, his first move was to buy Dad a brand new car. a Chevrolet Caprice Classic. Raymond Sr. had been clocking 30.000 miles a year on his 10-year-old Buick Skylark following his sons through the hockey provinces. Ray Sr. still gets weepy recalling his son's gift. "I'll tell you one thing." he says. "The NHL didn't swell Ray's head. He comes home every summer wearing shorts and driving his MVW...."
"That's BMW." corrects Ricky.