Bourque's No. 77 retired

Ray Bourque felt right at home.

Wearing his familiar No. 77 Boston Bruins jersey for the first time since leaving for Colorado, Bourque watched as the banner honouring his name and number was hoisted to the rafters of the FleetCenter.

"It is so good to be home," Bourque told the sold out crowd moments before joining his family in raising the banner.

"I am so disappointed that I could not win a Stanley Cup here for you. But the bottom line is: This is my home. This is where I really belong."

In an emotional ceremony attended by the four living Bruins previously honoured -- Milt Schmidt, John Bucyk, Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito -- Bourque was all smiles as he was showered with gifts and cheers from the ever faithful Boston fans.

Normally soft-spoken off the ice, Bourque addressed the FleetCenter crowd with a moving 14-minute address in which he thanked his family, his former teammates and even Harry Sinden, the former general manager who drafted him in 1979 and then traded him two decades later to fulfil Bourque's dream of winning a Stanley Cup.

During his 20 full seasons with the Bruins, Bourque led the team to the playoffs every year except for one, 1997. He is Boston's leader in almost every statistical category -- games, assists and points -- and won five Norris Trophies as the NHL's top defenceman. He was also named the NHL all-star game's MVP in front of a home crowd in 1996.

Eventually, Bourque's time with the Bruins' franchise came to a close.

Late in the 1999-00 season, with the Bruins nearly out of the playoff picture, Bourque quietly asked Sinden for a trade to a Stanley Cup contender. He played his last game as a Bruin on March 4 and was shipped to the Colorado Avalanche two days later.

Though the elusive championship didn't come that year, Bourque came back for one last season, and the Avalanche made it their mission to get Bourque's name on the Cup. That mission was accomplished on June 9, and Bourque retired 17 days later.

"I know I speak for everybody in the building when I tell you I had tears of joy in my eyes when I saw you raise the Stanley Cup," Terry O'Reilly, Bourque's former coach and teammate, said before the Bruins beat the Anaheim Mighty Ducks 4-2.

Before Thursday's ceremony, Bourque told reporters that winning a Cup in Boston is the one thing missing from his career.

"I won a Cup," he said. "But winning a Cup in Boston, winning here would have been real special. I could just imagine the fun we would have had."

Though Bourque left the Bruins' organization to win a Cup with another team, the Boston fans never held it against him. In fact, they embraced Bourque's decision and gave him their best wishes.

This summer, the city welcomed Bourque home with a City Hall rally and fans turned out by the tens of thousands to see the trophy that hadn't been hoisted in Boston since 1972.

Earlier, Boston Mayor Tom Menino proclaimed Thursday to be Ray Bourque Day, and he renamed Causeway Street in front of the FleetCenter "Ray Bourque Way."

And during the on-ice ceremony, if retiring his jersey wasn't enough, Bourque received more gifts including:

  • A snowmobile, from the FleetCenter
  • A marble plaque from his former Bruins teammates
  • A grandfather clock from the team
  • A silver stick, from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman

    "It should keep you occupied until they induct you into the Hockey Hall of Fame," said Bettman, who was booed, as was Bruins general manager Mike O'Connell.

    Bourque's No. 77 is the eighth number retired by the Bruins, joining Shore (2), Lionel Hitchman (3), Orr (4), Dit Clapper (5), Esposito (7), Bucyk (9) and Schmidt (15).

    Bourque wore No. 7 for the first eight years of his career until it was retired for Esposito. At that ceremony, Bourque surprised everyone by pulling off his old sweater to reveal his new number.

    On Thursday, Esposito handed Bourque a No. 77 sweater, which he pulled over his dress shirt and tie.

    "It's a jersey that I wore with pride and loved to wear for a long time," he said. "To be part of among that group that is up there is so special."

    Drafted in 1979, Bourque was three years too late to share the blue line with Orr, Boston's other famed defenceman. But there was no shortage of comparisons between the two.

    "It was a very special place for a young defenceman to come in. You kept hearing about Bobby Orr, and that can only help you," Bourque told reporters. "To this day, I don't think there has been a better player to impact the game.

    "Comparisons? I never had no problem with that. I always said if I could be half the player that he was, that would be one hell of a player."

    Orr laughed at the sentiment.

    "He was better than half," Orr said. "He's Raymond Bourque. The class that he played with, and the consistency. That's what made him who he was."