Rene Bourque is shown in this 2008 NHL handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, NHL
MONTREAL - Rene Bourque hopes he will settle in for a long stay with the Montreal Canadiens.
The left-winger who was obtained in a trade with the Calgary Flames for sniper Michael Cammalleri this week had his first skate with his new teammates at the Bell Centre on Saturday.
"I still haven't had the chance to look around at all the plaques on the walls and the Stanley Cup banners, but it's exciting," the 30-year-old said. "I always wanted to play here.
"I'm hoping I'll be here for the rest of my contract. Find a home and make this a place I'll be for a long time."
Bourque had to miss the Canadiens' game Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators to complete the five-game suspension he incurred while with the Flames for elbowing Washington's Nicklas Backstrom in the jaw. He is to play his first game Sunday night against the visiting New York Rangers. Then he gets to face the Capitals again on Wednesday night.
Forward Scott Gomez, who has missed 30 games since late October with injuries, most recently a groin, was cleared to return to the lineup against Ottawa. He was to play on left wing with centre Tomas Plekanec and either Erik Cole or Michael Blunden.
It was Bourque's second suspension in a month, having missed two games only two weeks earlier for a hit from behind on Chicago's Brent Seabrook.
Bourque, who averages US$3.3 per season, is signed for another four years after this season.
The Canadiens gave up Cammalleri's goal-scoring talent in a bid to get bigger and grittier with the six-foot-two, 210-pound Bourque. Coach Randy Cunneyworth, who is beginning to put his stamp on the team he took over from the fired Jacques Martin last month, wants to play a strong forechecking game and hopes Bourque will fit that plan.
"I haven't really talked to Randy about where I'll fit in yet," said Bourque. "l just play my game, get physical, get in the dirty areas, get in front of the net. That's what I bring, so I'm looking forward to doing that."
He also brought the concerns in Calgary about his consistency and occasional lapses in effort, which he hopes to rectify in Montreal.
"It's a fresh start for me here, so it's a clean slate and I'm hoping to shed that off my reputation, I guess," he said. "And hopefully, coming here with the excitement of new fans and a new team, I'll get better."
He vowed not to let the two suspensions make him overly cautious about hitting and physical play, even though if he gets another it likely be a long one.
The fact that he drew the suspensions doesn't bother Cunneyworth at all. In fact, it seemed to make him like Bourque even more.
"It's an expensive mistake, but you're playing hard, rugged, there's a bit of reckless abandon. But that's OK as long as you're going to those other areas and making sure they pay offensively," said Cunneyworth.
"It makes others wary a bit when you know that a guy has that reckless tendency and if other guys shy from that, that's where you win those battles."
Along with the signing last summer of Cole and the call-up of six-foot-three Blunden, Cunneyworth feels Bourque gives him better material to play a forechecking game. He said the team now should have a mix of skill and size on each of its four lines.
Bourque joined a team in grave danger of missing the playoffs and that has lost captain Brian Gionta for an extended period after surgery for a biceps injury.
Gomez hopes to pick up some of the slack and avoid missing the post-season for the first time in his career.
"I won't even think about that," the 12-year veteran said. "You don't want that creeping in.
"It's not an option, especially playing in a city like this. But it's going to take all of us."