Though they are happily married, Ray and Christiane Bourque are embroiled in a custody battle. The object of contention is not their three-year-old daughter, Melissa, their infant son, Christopher, or even their new cherry-red BMW. It's a lumpy, yellowing pillow that leaks foam rubber the way a torn feed bag spills oats.
"I can't sleep right unless I'm hugging my pillow." says Ray. "I like to squeeze it in a headlock."
"I like to hug it. too." counters Chris. ""The smell reminds me of you."
Boston's 26-year-old defenseman has had the pillow since he was old enough to tell a puck from a pacifier. It was his bunky when he was a little Termite League winger in the Montreal suburbs; it accompanied him through his apprentice years in the Canadian junior leagues; and it went up to the bigs with him in 1979, when he became the first rookie—other than a goaltender—to win the Calder Trophy and make the NHL All-Star first-team. Bourque won't give up the pillow now, even though he's all grown up and a favorite to win the Norris Trophy this season as the league's premier defenseman.
With or without his pillow, Bourque is the kind of player who inspires Stanley Cup dreams. He has been an All-Star in each of his eight pro seasons. Bourque has 58 assists this season—second in the league—and his 72 points are tops on the Bruins and best among NHL defensemen. "I finished second to Bourque in the 1980 Calder voting." says Buffalo forward Mike Foligno, "and over the years he's showed me why." Before playing the Bruins, Foligno's team devises strategies to keep Bourque locked up in his zone. Nothing has worked yet "He sneaks up on us and always gets off six or seven shots " Foligno says "Afterward we look at each other and say 'How'd he get so many?' "
Despite playing half his games in the Boston Garden, a teacup-sized rink that minimizes his mobility. Bourque is second in the NHL in shots, with 252. "Bourque controls so much of the game that he draws all the attention." says Foligno. "He causes opponents to react [to him], and in the course of that reaction his teammates are left open."
Bourque is particularly effective at the point on power plays, and nobody can check him head-to-head. "Most players skim over the ice like a Hovercraft." observes Bruin coach Terry O'Reilly. "Ray plows through it like a deep-V hull You need a windshield to protect you from the spray of snow."
Until recently, Bourque often bolted up the ice in length-of-the-rink scoring rushes reminiscent of Edmonton's Paul Coffey, who won the Norris Trophy the last two seasons. Rather than skate with Bourque. defenders learned to lie back and try to angle him into the boards. Now he's just as likely to flip a lazy pass across the blue line to a forward, then rush to the net in time to snare the return pass and slap it in. "Ray has kicked his game up a beat." says fellow Bruin backliner Mike Milbury. "He has always been great, but now he's using the whole ice surface."
Sophisticated scouting doesn't help that much. "You can chart Bourque all you want." says Lou Nanne. Minnesota's general manager. "But what good is it going to get you? He just reacts to what he sees. The great players are all like that."
Bourque is a 5'11", 210-pounder who seems more concerned with his plus-minus rating (+33, tops on the Bruins) than the fact that his five-year. $2.5 million contract makes him the NHL's highest-paid defenseman His value to the Bruins deters him from entering " brawls. "If I'm not on the ice, I'm not helping the team." he reasons, and he holds to the theory by averaging only 56 penalty minutes a season. "Anyway, I don't have to fight to prove myself."