Season Preview Sound Tigers are all in
BRIDGEPORT — For years, this was the kind of free agent that never wound up in a Bridgeport Sound Tigers sweater, for whatever reason, the sure-fire AHL Hall of Famer.
Suddenly this July, Chris Bourque became a Sound Tiger, signing an AHL contract.
Players like Mike Sislo and Matt Lorito were the NHL-contract vanguards at the start of hockey free agency, but Bourque’s arrival, rejoining brother Ryan for the third time, became the defining moment for a team whose roster now seems to match its Calder Cup goals.
“It’s an easy sell for me to come here with my brother being here,” Chris Bourque said. “When I became a free agent, Bridgeport was probably at the top of my list. It’s close to my house (in the Boston area). Getting to know the organization through my brother, knowing how they run things here, knowing the coaching staff, the area.”
Bourque has been an AHL MVP, played in the 2018 Olympics for the United States, won two league scoring titles.
“He’s won three Cups. He’s going to be an American League Hall of Famer at some point,” Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson said.
“All the experience he brings, the quality of guy he is in the room, the weight room. Ryan, they’re a really nice mix. I’m really excited to have both of the Bourques. He brings that game-breaker that we’ve lacked the past couple of years.”
The core of the Sound Tigers looks familiar to the past couple of years, in which they were competitive in arguably the AHL’s toughest division, but fell short of the top-four spot needed to make the playoffs.
Even with some prospects and some talent, the proven scorers were missing.
About as soon as Bridgeport was allowed to talk to Chris Bourque, it did.
“I think it’s kind of similar to every offseason that you have. You try to find ways to get better,” Sound Tigers general manager Chris Lamoriello said. “You try to figure out what you need to improve upon what you have. I think we were looking to add some skill.”
Bourque’s name appears over 30 times in the AHL’s Guide and Record Book. The Hershey franchise dates to 1938; Bourque is its fifth-leading all-time scorer. He scored 53 points in 64 games last season, interrupted by his Olympic trip to Korea. With 692 points, he’s the AHL’s leading active scorer, and 26th all-time.
“His resume speaks for itself,” Ryan Bourque said. “Leadership, the intangibles he brings off the ice, they’re very rare to come by in this league.
“He’s a rink rat. He loves the game. He loves being out there. He’s definitely not old, but at his age (32), he’s a veteran in this league and a special one to have.”
The brothers, sons of Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, played together in Hartford in 2014-15, then again in Hershey for part of the next year and all of 2016-17. Ryan signed with Bridgeport off a tryout the following season.
“You want to say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it’s our third stint,” Chris Bourque said. “You don’t realize how special it is until you don’t have him. Not that I didn’t have fun last year, but it’s a lot more enjoyable when you’re around him.”
Chris and his wife, Kim, and their son and daughter moved into Milford in early September. Other family members can make their way down here more easily than getting out to Hershey.
“He’s his own person. He’s got a family,” Ryan Bourque said. “I just didn’t want to put any pressure on him. He knew what I wanted. You’ve got to let him make his own decisions. Luckily for the both of us, it was to come here.”
One edge for Chris Bourque is, after playing for Hershey in the Washington Capitals organization, he arrives knowing the systems Barry Trotz likes to play. Trotz and the Capitals won the Stanley Cup last season before parting ways, and he’s now the coach of the Sound Tigers’ parent New York Islanders.
And he enjoys Thompson’s style.
“Working with him, Bogy, Carks (assistant coaches Eric Boguniecki and Matt Carkner) has been great so far. I feel the sky’s the limit for this team,” Chris Bourque said. “On paper, it looks great. It starts this weekend, and we’ll see how we look. So far, so good.”
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