by Ron Spence
The Vancouver Canucks have lost two family members during the past twelve months.
Former Moose defenceman Luc Bourdon lost his life in a motorcycle accident near his hometown of Shippagan, N.B. on May 29th, 2008.
Last week, Carly Bragnalo, the girlfriend of Taylor Pyatt was killed in a car accident in Jamaica.
Like New York Rangers’ prospect, Alexei Cherepanov, Bourdon was a first round draft pick.
Cherepanov grew up and played in Omsk, Siberia where he became a local hero.
Bourdon grew up in the rural Maritimes, played Major Junior in Moncton and Quebec, and went to Winnipeg as a pro. He also played 27 NHL games with the Canucks.
Thus, Bourdon was mourned in three areas across Canada.
“When I asked what he’d be doing if he wasn’t a professional hockey player,” wrote Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun, “Luc didn’t hesitate, mentioning immediately that he’d likely be a fisherman.
You could tell Luc would not soon forget his roots.”
“Luc was our star — everyone was looking at him as a model,” said Gilles Cormier, of Shippagan, who coached Bourdon for a year.
Thousands of friends, family, and fans filled a hockey rink in Shippagan, to pay their final respects to the future NHL star.
Representatives from Team Canada and the NHL, along with Canucks players, staff, coaches and management, attended the funeral.
In another eulogy, Bourdon, was described as a courageous, tenacious, yet simple man.
“You went down your dream road and you never stopped dreaming,” added another speaker in French. “For that and more we thank you.”
“To the Vancouver Canucks, thank you for believing in Luc. When you selected him, part of the town of Shippagan became fans [of the Vancouver Canucks].”
Bourdon’s casket was draped with his Canucks’ jersey and white roses.
His girlfriend, Charlene Ward, wept as she read a poem written for Luc.
Luc Bourdon was also mourned in Winnipeg.
The Moose celebrated his life with a video tribute – prior to Manitoba’s American Hockey League season opener against the Hamilton Bulldogs – on October 10th.
Each member of the Moose wore a Bourdon jersey with his No. 4 on the back – during the pre-game warm-up – and those jerseys were auctioned off to charity.
Throughout the 2008-09 season, the Moose players also wore a special #4 LB patch on the upper left chest of their jerseys.
Moose GM Craig Heisinger called Bourdon a “very caring and passionate” person.
“Luc Bourdon was a player, and more importantly, a person who came in here and made an impact. He was a genuine, soft-spoken person around the locker room. He was a person who had great potential and he was just beginning to realize that potential…Luc had a promising life and career ahead of him and he will most certainly be missed here and with the Canucks.”
“You can’t say enough about Luc’s excitement and his energy. I think of every time he scored a goal and jumped into the glass. He certainly enjoyed his time (in life), he enjoyed his time on the ice and those are the best memories that you want to remember.”
“He understood the value of being in the minors and playing a prominent role with the Manitoba Moose, rather than scraping for every minute of ice time in the NHL, where his every move was under scrutiny.
Luc still had plenty to learn, as all young defencemen do, but the emotion he played with was infectious.
He could skate, he could shoot, he was physical and he was tough.”
“When you get whacked with news like that, it makes you think of your own family, the loved ones around you and how fragile life is. Luc was a young guy who had everything in front of him and it was a very unfortunate incident that hit his family hard, hit us as a hockey team and the Vancouver Canucks as an organization.
“It’s going to be tough on a lot of people, but hopefully we can turn that into some positive energy on opening night,” said Moose forward Jason Jaffray. “It’s going to be an emotional night for the players, coaches and the fans. It’s tough to explain and it’s tragic to have someone like that lose his life at such a young age.”
“It’s a tragedy. I really feel for the mother. It’s about the worst thing that can happen to a parent, losing a child.”
Luc Bourdon was also a child of the Canucks, whose faithful followed him through his ups and downs.
He was like the fans – he did well, he did not do well. Because of this, many thought that they knew him.
“People chanted his name when he touched the puck,” said Tambellini. “We’ve never had that.”
And it wasn’t just his age, that impacted many when he died – it was also the futility of the way that he had passed. He worked hard and bought a new toy – from the fruits of his labours – and his girlfriend was following him in her car, when a gust of wind blew him into an oncoming truck.
Like Cherepanov – whom Bourdon faced at the 2007 World Junior Championship – Luc was the hope of many.
Luc Bourdon had been drafted 10th overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft and represented Canada in three international tournaments, winning two golds and a silver metal.
“We had very high hopes that Luc was going to step in and be a major contributor to the organization,” Mike Gillis explained. “Most people felt he was ready to emerge as a National Hockey League player and that he had made great strides…We were looking forward to having him on the team.”
“Luc was so powerful and so gifted a skater,” Steve Tambellini said. “You were impressed by his incredible stride and incredible strength for his age…You knew once he got his professional life and development in order that he was going to be a very good NHL player for a long time.”
“Luc was an extremely talented player with a bright future,” added Canucks owner Francesco Aqulini. “He brought great passion to the game and was a valued team member on and off the ice. He will be greatly missed.”
The celebration of Luc Bourdon’s life – by the religion of hockey – wasn’t the same as Morenz’s or Richard’s. Or even Alexei Cherepanov’s.
At the beginning of the first game of the 2008-09 season, Luc Bourdon was honoured in a brief pre-game ceremony in Vancouver’s GM Place. His mother and girlfriend were presented with his last game-worn jersey and Tom Cochrane and Red Rider performed the song “Big League” during a video tribute.
Commemorative pins were handed out to fans at the game, and the Canucks have worn “LB” on their helmets throughout the season.
At General Motors Place, the Luc Bourdon Wall of Dreams was established to commemorate Bourdon.
And, around the NHL, the Players’ Association raised $115,000 in his honour. The proceeds “will support scholarships and various youth-related initiatives through the establishment of the Luc Bourdon Memorial Fund.”
Carly Bragnalo’s funeral has not yet been held.