He was instructed to keep everything under wraps, but Ray Bourque just couldn’t help himself. Riding in a car alongside several fellow Boston Bruins alumni en route to an event in December, the Hall of Fame defenseman had just fielded a phone call from his son Chris, a 5-foot-8 hawk-eyed winger for the AHL’s Hershey Bears. Giddy over what they discussed, Bourque hung up and immediately blurted out the breaking news, supposed embargo be damned:
“Hey! We’re going to the Olympics!”
One month later, Ray, 57, recalls that moment with patriarchal pride. Few blueliners enjoyed more decorated careers than the elder Bourque—five Norris Trophies, one Calder Trophy and one Stanley Cup speak for themselves—but Chris, 31, never quite reached such prominence, instead carving out 10 solid, successful AHL seasons and counting. “To have the opportunity to play on this stage,” says Ray, his voice trailing off … “I was hoping he’d be part of the mix. It’s pretty cool that I got to experience what he’s about to experience.”
Once again, they will be there together. Exactly two decades before Chris will appear with Team USA at the upcoming Olympics in South Korea, part of the mishmash of minor-leaguers, college students and overseas pros marshaled in lieu of NHL participation, he was a wide-eyed preteen tagging along through Nagano, Japan, where Ray represented Canada during the 1998 Winter Games. According to research provided by USA Hockey, the Bourques will join Peter and Paul Stastny as the only father-son duos to play for different countries on Olympic ice.
“When your dad’s playing for a different country, you don’t really have any other option than to cheer for him and want to do well,” Chris says with a laugh. “Now the roles are reversed. He’s going to have to cheer for us. He doesn’t really have any other choice. He told me he’s not going to wear a jersey, but I’ll get him a sweatshirt. He’ll be wearing red, white and blue the whole tournament.”
Even today, Chris’s memories of Nagano remain fresh. Until taking the transcontinental flight, he had never left North America. Until trying the local cuisine, he had never seen sushi. He toured Buddhist temples, rode the high-speed railways, attended other events such as curling and figure skating, learned to sit seiza during meals. Midway through the tournament, a “deep panic” ensued when the family couldn’t locate Chris during a game of hide-and-go-seek at a local train station. “I ran into [Canadian assistant general manager] Bob Gainey, asking if he saw my son,” Ray says. “He was just hiding in a really good place, behind a wall somewhere. It was crazy.”
Not once, however, did Chris consider the craziest thing of all: that he would someday land in a similar position, representing his home country on the world’s biggest stage. As a second-round draft pick to Washington in '04, a two-time participant at World Juniors, a three-time Calder Cup champion, a five-time selection for the AHL All-Star game and twice the league's scoring champ, Chris has already achieved more than most. “I obviously wanted to become a hockey player when I grew up," he says, "but playing in the NHL is different than playing in the Olympics. It seems like it’s not even a possibility.”
Then the NHL announced that its players would not attend Pyeongchang. Then Team USA general manager Jim Johannson called, informing Bourque that he had landed among the preliminary pool of potential players. So he signed a one-way AHL deal with Hershey to stay eligible—“I hadn’t played in the NHL since 2013. Am I really going to risk not playing in the Olympics just to play one NHL game maybe in a year? I didn’t see the reasoning behind that.”—and treated every night like another tryout. “Obviously I’m playing for the Bears right now, and they’re the main focus,” he says, “but I was also playing to get noticed and to get recognized.”
It all culminated one afternoon in December, several weeks before the final roster was announced on New Year's Day. Chris had pulled from the parking lot outside Giant Center following practice and turned onto HersheyPark Drive, headed to a local lunch spot to pick up sandwiches for his family, when Johannson’s number pinged into the Bluetooth system of his Mercedes. “You hold your breath when you see that name pop up there,” Chris says. “You get chills. Your heart sinks a little bit there for a second before you answer. It was definitely one of the biggest sighs of relief I’ve ever had in my life, for sure.
“Everything fell into place. Here I am now.”
Several hundred miles away and a few minutes later, Ray answered his phone with elation. The tournament in Nagano had ended bitterly for Canada, between losses to the Dominik Hasek-led Czech Republic in the semifinals and Finland for bronze, but he brought home plenty of souvenirs anyway. There were the seemingly bottomless bags of national team swag, jackets and toques and “pretty much a whole new wardrobe,” he told Chris. Plus all those memories from the Olympic village, crowded around common-room televisions with downhill skiers and short-track speed skaters, cheering together when another fellow Canadian placed in the top three. “You’ve got to enjoy the village,” he said. “It’s a pretty special thing.”
There was one more piece of advice that Ray wished to impart. It came from an old high school gym teacher, Ben Leduc, who had previously coached the Canadian middle-distance runners at the Summer Games in Seoul and Los Angeles. “He told me before I left for Nagano, ‘Ray, any color medal you come home with is an incredible accomplishment,’” Bourque remembers. “In my head, I said, ‘Yeah, we’re coming back with something. It’s going to be gold or silver.’ And I came back with nothing. He was so right.”
No need to tell Chris twice. Behind captain Brian Gionta, the U.S. will likely arrive in Pyeongchang as underdogs, projected at least behind an experienced Canadian squad and the Olympic Athletes from Russia, whose yet-to-be-named roster should be loaded with KHL talent. Still, Chris is optimistic. “A chance to get the medal is I think something that nobody on the team thought about a year and a half ago,” he says. “It’s very motivating. That’s something maybe we’re going to rally around, for sure. An opportunity that presents itself where you never thought you’d get, it’s something we can’t let slip through our fingers.”
Spoken like his father. One month away from the Americans’ opening matchup against Slovenia at Kwandong Hockey Centre, Ray has stocked his closet with U.S. sweatshirts, hats...even a jersey, despite his earlier forswearing. He may hail from Quebec, may have donned the maple leaf at three Canada Cups, but his family has lived in Boston since ‘79 and he attained U.S. citizenship in ‘96—there is no doubting where his on-ice allegiances rest. "I’m cheering for my son," he says.
"I know that."
More than anything else, though, Ray cannot wait for the opening ceremonies on Feb. 9. He thinks about watching Chris march into Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium, surrounded by fellow athletes, and imagines his son waving to the crowd. “I’ll see a smile,” Ray says, “and I’ll know exactly how he’s feeling.”