Team Canada's Rene Bourque celebrates a goal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Source: Getty
The Canadian men's Olympic team is hoping it caught streaky Rene Bourque at the right time for a two-week goal streak.
When it was finally officially decided by The League That Shall Not Be Named™ that it would not be sending players to the Olympics, one of the first things Rene Bourque did was call Team Canada GM Sean Burke to ask him what he needed to do to be a part of his home country’s Olympic team.
Whatever Burke told him, Bourque obviously complied and Canada was the better for it in its opening game of the tournament. As he is wont to do, Bourque started with a bang, scoring a goal less than three minutes into Canada’s 5-1 win over Switzerland before adding another. And who was providing the perfect screen on the power play on Maxim Noreau’s goal that made it 2-0 for Canada? None other than Rene Bourque. Canada dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to the Czech Republic in its second game, but Bourque made another appearance on the scoresheet with his third goal of the tournament.
There are a couple of reasons why Bourque is on this team and not playing in The League That Shall Not Be Named™. One of them is that he’s 36 and the league is becoming more of a younger man’s league with every passing year. The other is that he is, and always has been a maddeningly streaky scorer with boffo stints invariably followed by longer ones with little to no production. The Canadian Olympic team is hoping it caught Bourque at the right time and he has a 12-day white-hot streak in him. If that’s the case, Bourque could emerge as a significant difference-maker in a tournament that is so wide open that it’s getting more difficult to handicap with every passing game.
He is off to a great start, to be sure. And the best thing about the Olympics is that it’s such a short tournament that if Bourque can stay hot for even just a short time, that could be enough. This season, Bourque is playing in the Swedish League with Djurgarden and, yes, he is up to the same streaky and inconsistent ways he displayed in The League That Shall Not Be Named™.
Former minor pro goalie Mike Zanier is a radio color commentator for the Vaxjo Lakers of the SHL and keeps close tabs on the top league in the country. And he said Bourque’s streaky ways have followed him from North America to Sweden. “I told some fans in Djurgarden that they’re going to find a guy that is going to score for a bit and then you might not see him for a few months,” Zanier said. “And then he’ll be back again and he’ll be gone again.”
According to Zanier, that’s exactly what happened. Bourque had six goals in his first six games with Djurgarden, then he got only one in his next 13. In the following three games, he had four goals, then had just two in the next 11 games before missing the past month with an injury. “I was actually surprised that he went to the Olympics because he hasn’t played with the club team here for over a month,” Zanier said.
Bourque proved four years ago in the playoffs with the Montreal Canadiens, when he scored eight goals in 17 games, that he has the capacity to be a dangerous player when he’s on a roll. Zanier said that when NHL veterans come over to Europe late in their careers, they sometimes get a little bored and they need important games to get back into their groove. “Usually in the playoffs, the good guys are good again,” said Zanier, who represented Italy in the 1992 Games in Albertville. “When you’re older, you’ve got to have that little carrot somewhere.”
For Bourque, that carrot is a chance to win a gold medal for his home country. And if he remains engaged, he still has the physical attributes and skill set to be the kind of player who could help get Canada onto the podium, perhaps even the highest one.
As far as Team Sweden is concerned, Zanier would have liked to have seen 19-year-old Vancouver Canucks prospect Elias Pettersson, who sits third in SHL scoring with 17 goals and 45 points in 37 games. “I think he deserved the chance because he’s been that good this year, but they went with the safe choices,” Zanier said. “There are some coaches in the SHL who think they’re too slow. I think they’ll be OK but it will be up to (goalie) Victor Fasth. He has had on OK season. When he gets hot, he’s really hot, but he’s had a couple of spurts where he has struggled a bit.