When Luc Bourdon attended his first Vancouver Canucks training camp the coaches were astounded by the raw skill shown by the 18-year-old, and thrilled about the first-round draft pick’s NHL potential.
That promise of things to come will remain unfulfilled after the 21-year-old defenceman, who helped Canada win two gold medals at the world junior hockey championship, died Thursday in a motorcycle accident near his hometown of Shippagan, N.B.
News of Bourdon’s sudden, tragic death had friends, teammates and Canucks management talking about the person he was and the player he might have been.
“His potential was incredible,” said Steve Tambellini, the Canucks assistant general manager. “Not only the player but the person was starting to emerge as a professional athlete.
“You could sense when you got to know Luc that when he emerged as an NHL regular, he would be an impact player. He was a passionate individual that cared a great deal about his teammates and cared a great deal about his profession.”
Hockey fans saw Bourdon as a defenceman with bull strength and a smooth, confident stride.
Goaltender Cory Schneider knew the man inside the uniform. He saw a free spirit who liked rock music and was a great guitar player. Someone who would quietly visit children in the hospital and not mention it to anyone.
“It’s just not a hockey player we lost,” said Schneider, Bourdon’s teammate last season with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League. “It’s a great kid who loved life and was trying to get the most out of it.
“He was a very fun-loving person. He did what ever he wanted, what ever made him happy. In practice, he worked hard but he always kept it light. At the end of practice he would do some crazy games or drills.”
In an interview with Vancouver radio station the Team 1040, Canucks blue-liner Aaron Miller said that Bourdon had the makings of a great player.
“It’s horrible,” Miller said. “Great kid, great promising career … my heart goes out to his family.
“He was a good kid. He was a real funny kid. He was a little bit shy because of language difficulties, but he was a great player and he was going to be a big part of the Canucks future.”
Bourdon died when his motorcycle struck a tractor-trailer near Shippagan, a largely French-speaking community in northern New Brunswick. The town isn’t far from Bathurst where another sports-related accident in January killed seven members of the Bathurst High basketball team and an adult.
Bourdon’s sister, Eve Bourdon, and his stepmother Maryse Godin both confirmed the death but declined further comment.
RCMP wouldn’t confirm the identity of the victim but said the driver of a motorcycle was killed at about 12:30 p.m. AT in a crash on a road between Shippagan and Lameque, N.B.
News of Bourdon’s sudden death shook the hockey world and left his hometown in mourning.
Mike Gillis, the Canucks general manager, said the NHL team was “deeply saddened.”
“The reaction when you have events like this occur is obviously shock and sadness for a promising career that was just about to begin in the National Hockey League,” he said.
Former Canucks GM Dave Nonis told the Team 1040 that Bourdon was just starting to shed the pressure a lot of high draft picks feel when they first play professional hockey.
“The first couple of years with us, he felt a lot of the pressure of being a high pick … and I think some of that was difficult for him.
“I think last year he started to shake that and was enjoying being a pro.”
Kent Hughes, Bourdon’s agent, took long pauses when talking about the player he first met as a 15-year-old.
“There was no quit in him,” said Hughes. “He persevered through a lot. He was a great guy and a great teammate.”
Brent Sutter, who coached Bourdon at the 2006 world junior hockey championship in Vancouver, called the death surreal.
“He was such a great young man (with) such a tremendous future ahead of him,” said Sutter, who is now the head coach of the New Jersey Devils. “When ever you lose someone at such a young age it’s a tragic situation.”
Raoul Boudreau, who lives across the street from Bourdon’s father’s home in Shippagan, said news of the death spread through the town of nearly 3,000 within hours of the crash.
“It’s so sudden,” Boudreau said in French.
The National Hockey League Players’ Association and Hockey Canada also extended condolences to Bourdon’s family.
Bourdon was taken 10th overall by the Canucks in the 2005 draft. The six-foot-three, 211-pounder was so impressive in his first camp he came close to making the team.
“He blew the coaches away with his poise and strength,” said Tambellini. “Not too often do you see players that age, especially in that position, come in and look so at ease.”
But Bourdon was eventually returned to junior and helped Canada win back-to-back gold medals at the world junior hockey championships.
He was named to the all-star team at the 2006 tournament. At the 2007 event in Sweden, Bourdon scored the third-period goal that tied the game and forced overtime against the U.S. in the semifinal game.
The family of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, who was a teammate of Bourdon’s at the championships in Sweden, released a statement expressing their sorrow at the loss.
“We were so proud of Luc when he scored the goal that tied up the (Canada-US) game, which then lead to the infamous shoot out that brought the team to the final game against Russia.
“Luc Bourdon will remain in our hearts and memories forever.”
Bourdon split last season between Vancouver and Manitoba. He played 27 games with the Canucks, scoring two goals and collecting 20 penalty minutes.
Hughes said a devastating ankle injury during the 2005-06 season slowed Bourdon’s progress. He also was saddled by the huge expectations placed on him after his first training camp.
“I think that training camp created a level of expectations” said Hughes. “I really felt this year he was starting to settle into kind of worrying about only what was in his control.
“He was trying to simplify his game and not worry about if he was in Manitoba or Vancouver. Just enjoy the sport and not the business side of it.”
Craig Heisinger, Manitoba’s general manager, said Bourdon made an impact both on the ice and in the community.
“Some things strike me,” said Heisinger. “At the end of the year he wanted to get home quickly because he had a close friend that was bedridden with cancer and it was important that he got home in time.”
Gillis wouldn’t say if the Canucks have a policy preventing their players from owning motorcycles or participating in dangerous activities away from the rink.
“Moving forward we are most definitely going to have policies or educational programs not only for events like riding a motorcycle but anything that may impact or affect a career,” he said.
Schneider wasn’t surprised Bourdon would ride a motorcycle.
“Something like this, buying a motorcycle, just fits right into his persona,” Schneider said. “Always fearless and doing what ever he felt would give him that rush or make him excited.”