Keeping Score: Chris Bourque’s call to glory

Friday, January 19, 2018

Good morning!

U.S. Olympic hockey captain Chris Bourque honed his hockey skills and study habits at Cushing Academy. Son of Ray scored 90 points (37 goals) at Iorio Arena in Ashburnham and was taken by Washington with the 33rd overall pick in the 2004 NHL draft.

Bourque’s played 51 games in the NHL, but the bulk of his career has been in Hershey, Pa. He’s a big fish on a small pond in the Chocolate City, a five-time All Star with two scoring titles and MVP trophies from the regular season (2015-16) and Calder Cup playoffs (2009-10).

The Bears re-signed him to a one-year deal last summer, calling him “one of the all-time greats in AHL history.”

In three weeks, the 32-year-old Bourque will lead an eclectic band of journeymen out of the locker room into the fray. Without NHL players in the mix it’s like the old days: who are these guys?

Marc Arcobello played for Yale and grew up watching the Hartford Whalers. Jonathan Blum was the Nashville Predators’ first round draft pick in 2007. Bobby Butler was the Hockey East Player of the Year at UNH in 2010. Ryan Donato’s favorite social media account is Barstool Sports, and the three things Garrett Roe likes most about hockey are: “Everything, everything and everything.”

Different stories, different backgrounds, and a coach from America’s Heartland who’s tasked with pulling them together. Tony Granato played four years at Wisconsin and 14 seasons in the NHL.

The tourney works like this. The twelve teams are divvied into three groups of four playing head-to-head. Each group’s winner will advance to the quarterfinals together with the top second place finisher. A glance at the groupings portends three major tilts: Canada versus the Czechs in Group A, the U.S. versus Russia in Group B, and Finland against Sweden in Group C. Slovakia lurks as the spoiler out of Group B.

Four years ago, Canada beat Sweden for the gold, and the U.S. lost to Finland for the bronze. This Olympic team has more pizzaz: these guys are underdogs and it will be fun to root for them.

Pyeongchang is 10 hours ahead of us and Team USA plays Slovenia at 7:10 a.m. on Feb. 14. It’s early, but there are worse ways to start the day.

West County’s Mike Ryan has two dogs in the hunt today in Foxboro. He grew up in Ashfield and graduated from Mohawk Trail Regional High School. His brother Jim made him root for the Patriots, but Tom Coughlin got him his first job working in the New York Giants’ training room in 1984.

Ryan followed Coughlin to Jacksonville and stayed on after he left, becoming the team’s head athletic trainer. In 2013 he was hired at NBC to be a Sports Medicine Analyst. “I provide the injury and concussion details to whoever needs it,” he said.

Ryan was on the sideline for NBC’s Sunday and Thursday night Football games, and his work doesn’t end until three weeks from tomorrow. “It’s our turn to cover the Super Bowl,” he said.

Greenfield’s Mark Durant is wintering in Las Vegas, enjoying the Nevada sunshine and marveling at the play of the Las Vegas Golden Knights. “There’s ‘watch’ parties all over the city,” he said. “This place is gaga for hockey.”

On Thursday, the first-year expansion club beat the Lightning to pull within two points of Tampa Bay for the best record in the NHL.

Durant left The Recorder for Poker Atlas. When he’s not busy updating tournaments, he’s watching goaltender Malcolm Subban dispel the Boston naysayers. The 24-year-old brother of Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban was Boston’s first round pick (24th overall) in 2012, but never got out of Providence except for two starts — both losses.

The Bruins tried getting him through waivers and back to Providence this past fall, but Vegas scooped him up. “Las Vegas goaltending coach Dave Prior convinced GM George McPhee to claim him,” said Durant.

Subban quickly got the call after Marc-Andre Fleury was hurt in October. He stepped between the pipes and beat the Bruins, 3-1, reeled off four more wins and is 12-2 as the team’s backup goalie. “Confidence,” said Durant. “He was a first round pick and he’s showing it.”

Yankees fan Vinny Natale found an error of omission in a recent item regarding pitcher Jim Bunning. “It was both Jim Bunning and Bobo Newsom who were the only pitchers to strike out Ted Williams three times in one game,” emailed Natale, who’s been correcting me since the days when Gary Sanderson and I co-hosted the Sunday Sportspage on WPOE.

NFL physician Dr. David Chao told Sirius-XM’s “Moving the Chains” this week that Jacksonville running back Leonard Fournette will play on Sunday. “He’s been dealing with the ankle issue for quite a few years, before the draft and from college days,” said Chao.

Fournette limped off in the second half against Pittsburgh. He gained 82 yards on 12 carries before he was hurt, but only 27 yards on 13 carries afterward. “When he went out my assessment was it wasn’t a bad “new” injury, but something that can flare up and cause pain,” said Chao. “He didn’t tear new ligaments and he’s going to be fine for this week’s game.”

The Jags-have-no-chance column by the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy garnered just 47 replies in the Jacksonville Sun’s online edition. One reader recalled “the jagwads” comment that Denver columnist Woody Paige made before the 1996 playoffs. Jacksonville beat the Broncos, who were 14-point favorites.

When news broke that Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was in line to be the Colts’ new coach, Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyle dredged up punter Mitch Berger’s remarks from  McDaniels’ days coaching the Broncos: “I felt like I was playing for an equipment manager or something, he was like a little punk.”

Forbes Magazine reports that Jaguars owner Shahid “Shad” Khan left Pakistan when he was 16-years-old with $500 in his pocket. Khan majored in engineering at Illinois, designed a one-piece truck bumper and bought a 300-foot super yacht named Kismet (Arabic for fate).

Red Sox owner John Henry’s yacht is named Elysian — Greek for heavenly. Maybe they’ll race each other off the coast of Boca Raton.

UMass football recruit Parker Ogle of Palm City, Fla., has a strong athletic pedigree. His father played at Clemson, his brother Alex played at Boise State, and another brother Braeden pitches in the Pirates’ farm system. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Ogle chose UMass over nine other schools, according to 247sports. His friend, Jayce Golden of Palm City, says the Minutemen recruited him to play center.

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has a tendency to behave like Johnny Manziel. Both won the Heisman Trophy, and both have behaved badly. 

Two years ago in Fayetteville, Ark., Mayfield was cuffed for disorderly conduct. The police department released a video of him making a run for it screaming, “I didn’t do anything!”

A cop tackles him, cuffs him and retorts: “No, you’re just a dumb-ass who tried to run.”

The Denver Broncos have the fifth pick in the draft and would love to have Mayfield over their current quarterbacks Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler. “The Broncos requested him on the team they’re coaching in the Senior Bowl,” said Ed McCaffrey on Sirius-XM. “They want to get a real good, up-close look at him.

“My gut feeling is he’s different than Johnny Manziel and he loves the game of football enough to put it first,” added McCaffrey.

The Senior Bowl is Jan. 27 (NFL Network; 1:30 p.m.).

GRID RATINGS: The top four passer ratings from Sunday’s division finals: Drew Brees (115.2); Ben Roethlisberger (110.5); Tom Brady (102.5) and Nick Foles (100.1), and the two lowest: Blake Bortles (75.8) and Case Keenum (85.2). … They had 4,000 empty seats at Heinz Field on Sunday. Fans said they were saving their money for Foxboro. … Leonard Fournette looks like Cam Newton. He has size, speed and agility. Can he throw? The Jags should try him at quarterback. … Aforemented orthopedist David Chao questioned whether Nick Foles might have a bad elbow. “Was it just the wind? He had several (bad) throws against the Falcons.”

SQUIBBERS: Saturday night’s Pats-Titans game on CBS garnered the network’s lowest playoff rating since 2000. … Georgia’s Roquan Smith has declared for the draft. The Dick Butkus Award winner would look good in a Raiders uniform or alongside Ndamukong Suh in Miami. … Pats wide receiver Matthew Slater on Jacksonville all-pro safety Jalen Ramsey:  “The Good Lord looked down and said, ‘Let there be corner.’” … Twincities.com reports that Marcus Williams’ missed tackle of Stefon Diggs has been dubbed the “Whiff Six.” …  The Ventures — a staple of 1950s AM rock music with albums like Walk Don’t Run, play tonight at the Iron Horse in Northampton. … Four-time All Star Dante Bichette helped Glory Days beat the Michigan Rhinos in the Over-45 Roy Hobbs World Series at JetBlue Park last month. … Ten days till the sun sets after 5 p.m., seven until Daylight Saving Time, we’re getting there. … For what it’s worth, there’s a greyhound racing at Orange Park in Jacksonville named Stephon Gilmore.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.