Road To The Olympic Games

Ice Hockey

Rene Bourque's Olympic swan song worth all the hockey scars

Rene Bourque, 36, hopes to cap his professional hockey playing career with Olympic gold. The former NHL journeyman has three goals in two games heading into Team Canada's final preliminary-round match.

36-year-old former NHL journeyman has 3 goal in 2 games for Team Canada

Rene Bourque celebrates one of his three goals for Canada in the preliminary round. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press )

By Tim Wharnsby, CBC Sports

Canadian Olympian Rene Bourque graciously agreed to detail his hockey scars.

There was the two-month absence due to a cracked bone in his ankle in his second season with the Chicago Blackhawks. A groin problem caused him to miss some time early in his third campaign, but he returned only to be out another month with a broken thumb.

While with the Calgary Flames, in his fourth year, a high-ankle sprain caused him to miss the final two months of the 2008-09 season. He then required offseason surgery to repair an abdominal wall tear later in his NHL career.

And then there is the most frightening incident of his time in the NHL, when, in a scrum in front of the net, the skate of Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nikolai Zherdev cut Bourque's neck. It was a deep laceration that nicked his jugular vein and was just millimetres from the vital carotid artery on Nov. 12, 2006.

"That was the scariest," said the 36-year-old Bourque, who leads Canadians with three goals in two games heading into their final outing of the preliminary round against South Korea on Sunday (7:10 a.m. ET).

"I could see the concern in the faces of the trainers. I could see all the blood I had lost. I was starting to feel light-headed because of all the blood I had lost. I was scared."

He was thankful Blackhawks trainers Mike Gapski and Jeff Thomas successfully stopped the bleeding and that team Dr. Michael Terry was able to surgically repair the gash at the University of Chicago Hospital. Bourque missed four weeks, but at least knew he was going to heal. His second concussion as a pro a few seasons later, while with the Montreal Canadiens, was another story.

"I've had a couple of bad concussions, but the one in Montreal [February 2013] took me two months to feel right again," Bourque said.

"When you suffer a brain injury, there is no timeline like there is with a broken bone when they can determine you're out for four-to-six weeks.

"I had good days and I had bad days. The bad days I couldn't even look at my phone without getting a headache. With all the talk about concussions, you begin to wonder if this is the end."

But it wasn't the end. He survived and played a few more NHL seasons, Now here he is in the Olympics, an opportunity he cherishes.

Olympic finish

If the NHLers didn't stay home this time, Bourque would be on his couch at home closely watching the Winter Games on his television. He was going to retire unless a guaranteed contract to prolong his NHL career was presented. Instead, he only was invited to a couple of training camps on a tryout basis.

But then he started to talk with Hockey Canada and general manager Sean Burke about the possibility of playing one more year in Europe and for the Canadian Olympic team.

He found an ideal spot with Djurgardens IF in Stockholm, Sweden. It was an easy transition for his wife Jana and their two young children because it was a big city and plenty of english spoken.

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"If there was no Olympics I don't know if I would be playing this year," he said. "When Hockey Canada talked to me I thought there wasn't a better way to finish my career."

A gold medal would be a perfect ending to his underdog career. Bourque is of Metis descent and does charitable work to help young kids in his Northern Alberta community of Lac La Biche.

He was raised by hard-working parents; Barbara, a social worker, and father Gary, an oil-patch worker. His dad would often be away from the family for long stretches because of his work.

Scouts didn't visit Lac La Biche, so Bourque left as a teenager to attend the famed Notre Dame school in Wilcox, Sask. He earned a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, went undrafted in the NHL but graduated with a degree in consumer behaviour and business.

Late bloomer

The Blackhawks took a chance on him as a free agent and he swiftly made an impact with AHL 2004-05 rookie-of-the-year honours.

"I'm a late bloomer, but deep down I've always had a belief in myself," said Bourque, who comes from a unique family. His two older sisters, Kim and Nadia, are twins, and he also has a twin sister, Chantal.

His production peaked while with Calgary thanks to back-to-back 27-goal seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11, but then bounced around in his last several NHL campaigns.

Now he has found another hockey home with one last hurrah with the Canadian Olympic team.

"We're motivated to keep it rolling," said Bourque, in reference to Canada's back-to-back gold medal wins in 2010 and 2014. "We hear the talk that we're not the favourites, that we're underdogs. That's fine. We want to prove ourselves and prove them wrong."