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Ray Bourque Becomes the Lead Bruin
By Matt Brown, Boston Correspondent

Raymond Bourque became the Boston Bruins all-time leading scorer by registering a goal and two assists on February 1st in Boston's 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Bourque broke the record of 1,339 points held by Bruins legend Johnny Bucyk, which stood since 1977. Bourque's goal at 5:33 of the first period gave him 1,340 points, breaking a tie with Bucyk and sending his teammates onto the ice for congratulations (the Bruins had sought and received NHL dispensation to have this post-goal celebration without drawing a delay of game penalty).

"It couldn't have been broken by a better person or greater hockey player," said his former teammate and current Bruins radio analyst Johnny Bucyk. "It shows you just how great a hockey player he is."

Typically humble, Bourque dismissed all the fuss: "Big celebrations are really not for me," said Bourque, "But I'll take it and move on. When you play a long time and stay healthy, good things will happen to you."

A measure of his greatness as a hockey player is that he is the only defenseman in the NHL to become the leading all-time scorer for his hockey club.

With this accomplishment, Ray Bourque has all but assured his place in the rafters alongside the other legendary Bruins whose sweater numbers have been retired. But if you look at this record as Ray's paying off the mortgage on that FleetCenter loft, consider that Ray first bought the deed to that house 10 years ago.

It was on the night of December 3, 1987, in perhaps the most memorable non-game moment in Bruins history, that Ray Bourque performed one of the most dignified acts in the history of hockey. During the ceremonies on "Phil Esposito Night," Ray pulled off his number seven sweater at center ice and handed it to Phil Esposito, revealing the number 77 that Ray has worn ever since. This magnanimous gesture floored Esposito, who to this day says that Ray Bourque's act, rather than all the goals and the scoring titles and the Stanley Cups and the fame, remains the greatest event in his hockey life.

And this is the moment that defines Raymond Bourque as a Bruin, a hockey player, and as a man. This more than anything, except perhaps 18 years of loyalty and excellence to the hockey club, tells the story about the strength and character and generosity of Ray Bourque. Because Ray had already gotten permission from Phil to keep wearing number seven after it was retired, but Ray chose instead to change his number. This may seem a trivial thing, but it is not. Ask Phil Esposito, or anyone else who has played the game.

Yet despite his accomplishments, Ray Bourque is often overlooked, is unnoticed, at least in comparison with other superstars in hockey. All the press seems to want to talk about is the fact that Ray Bourque has never skated the Stanley Cup around a rink. As a Boston Bruin, he will always be second in popularity behind Bobby Orr. Boston sports fans will always think of Orr, Larry Bird, Ted Williams, Carl Yastremski, and Bill Russell before they consider Raymond. As a pure scoring defenseman, he comes in second to Paul Coffey. As a defensive defenseman, some will rank him behind Chris Chelios. But put offense and defense together, add his durability, and Ray Bourque has no equal; not Orr, not Coffey, not any of the Hall of Fame greats in NHL history.

His coach and friend Steve Kasper probably said it best: "It's unfair to compare players from different eras, but when all is said and done, Ray Bourque's longevity and the fact he's done it for 18 years makes him one of the greatest ever," Kasper said. "I don't think anyone will realize how good he is until he retires." There is little doubt that Bourque will have a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame soon thereafter.

Part of this image problem is because Ray is basically a quiet guy who does not hog the spotlight, wear a wedding dress to a press conference, complain about his pay, or whine about wanting to be traded to a Stanley Cup winning team. He just plays the game he loves, day in and day out, year by year, without a lot of noise and nonsense. He is the embodiment of leadership by example.

Look behind the scenes, and you will see the man who always has time for his teammates, the reporters, the fans, and the kids. Especially the sick kids. Ray is a frequent visitor to local hospitals, and every year he participates in autograph signings to benefit a young boy or girl with leukemia or another dread disease. He makes appearances to help with charities. He gives of himself to the Greater Boston community, and he is universally respected for it.

Ray's accomplishments are lengthy and incredible.

Raymond Jean Bourque was the Bruins eighth-pick overall in the 1979 Amateur Draft. His pick was obtained from the Los Angeles Kings in a trade for goaltender Ron Grahame. Some consider this an astute trade.

He began his career by winning the Calder Trophy as the league's leading rookie in 1979-80. He has won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's leading defenseman five times, and the King Clancy Trophy (the annual award "to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community") in 1991-92.

He has 353 goals and 989 assists in 1,264 career games with Boston. He is only the the third defenseman in NHL History to record 300 goals. He is just the second defenseman, and seventh player overall, to reach the 900 assist plateau.

Last season was Ray's 12th selection as an NHL First Team All-Star, tying him with Gordie Howe for the most ever. Moreover, he has been either a first team or second team All-Star every season of his career, a mark no other player in the NHL has achieved, at least not over the course of 18 years. He was named the MVP of the 1995-96 All-Star game when his goal with 37.3 seconds lifted the Eastern Conference team to a win at the FleetCenter on January 20, 1996.

Most significantly, Ray was named the 15th Captain in the history of the Boston Bruins for the 1985-86 season, and he has been "the Captain" ever since, owning that title. He is soon to complete 11 full seasons in that role.

The Bruins have scheduled a ceremony to honor Raymond before the February 4th game against the Ottawa Senators, to give the hometown fans a chance to express their appreciation to Ray for 18 years of excellence and class. Expect the fans to rock the FleetCenter when Ray is introduced like it hasn't been rocked since it first opened last year. You won't hear that sound again until the Bruins win a Stanley Cup, or Ray's number 77 is raised to its rightful place among the legends.

LCS: Guide to Hockey

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