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Andrew Bates/LLB Post
Andrew Bates/LLB Post
Members of the Bourque family watch Game 4 of the Canadiens' playoff series against the New York Rangers at a public viewing part in the Bold Center Sunday.
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Rene Bourque's hometown fans in Lac La Biche follow Canadiens run from afar

May 28, 2014 09:18 am | Andrew Bates

Lac La Biche's NHL hero Rene Bourque has skated into the hearts of Canadian hockey fans with a hat-trick in the Montreal Canadiens' 7-4 win Tuesday night in Game 5 of its playoff series with the New York Rangers. But in his hometown, those who know have been watching the whole time.

About fifty people came out to the main ice rink at the Bold Center Sunday night for a viewing party for Game 4, and they represented some of the most watchful eyes during the career of the right winger from Lac La Biche.

"For us, we know Rene personally, and it's been pretty nice," said Ryan Biollo, of Lac La Biche. "For this year and last year with Montreal, especially this year making the run, it's been really exciting watching a hometown boy, somebody we know and really something we can cheer for."

Popcorn was free, pop was a dollar, and kids scampered around playing floor hockey at the end of the rink, where the Portage College hockey team plays. It was sponsored by Booster Juice and organized by Lac La Biche County councillor Dave Phillips. who read the suggestion on Facebook.

"This wasn't my idea. One of the ladies suggested it on Facebook, and I just put my comment in that this was a great idea," Phillips said. "Booster Juice... paid for the space, I went out and got donations for the popcorn and popcorn machine, I personally supplied the pop and off we went."

Philips said he's followed Bourque from the beginning of his career. "Those of us that are my age watched him grow up, watched his dad take him from hockey school to hockey school, from one level of hockey to the next," he said. "I'm not necessarily a really good Canadiens fan, but I'm a big Rene Bourque fan. It was really hard for me when the Oilers were playing against the Flames and he was down there."

Represented in full force at the event were Bourque's family, including his father, Gary Bourque.

"I'm thrilled to see a nice crowd come out and support hockey, because this is Oiler fan country, but obviously Rene's got a lot of support in this community, which is great, eh?" Bourque said.

Enhancing the quality of the run for local fans has been the emergence of Bourque, who scored nine goals and 16 points during 63 games in the regular season, but rocketed to 8 goals and 11 points in just 15 games this playoff run.

"Rene's got to be at his best right now, like every other player on the team," said Bourque. "It's playoffs, he's never been this deep before, so I'm sure he's in his best competitive mood."

"Rene is playing absolutely awesome, I love watching him play," said Maurice Richard, a Northern Lights School Division trustee who says he's supported the Habs for "many, many years."

"(It's) absolutely super for the Habs," Richard said. "Each round has been a good round. I thought they'd beat Tampa Bay, but Boston, I didn't know if they could do well against them, but they proved that they could."

Gary Bourque said he grew up watching the Chicago Blackhawks, and was a huge Oiler fan before Rene Bourque reached the NHL, where he was drafted by the Blackhawks and also played for the Calgary Flames.

"Before Rene played in the NHL, I was a diehard Oiler fan, in Gretzky days, Messier days," he said. "And then when Rene of course came in, I was Chicago, I was a Flame fan, and now I'm a Canadien fan, obviously."

Bourque was involved in his son's early development as a player.

"I coached Rene from a novice until he was a bantam, so I was doing a lot of coaching in minor hockey there," he said. "Rene was a pretty competitive young boy, eh? Rene enjoyed going to hockey camps all over Alberta, but Rene only wanted to do that every second year, Rene wanted to golf and fish, he loved fishing."

The key for the kids that scampered around the rink to follow in Rene's footsteps, according to Gary, is to emulate his focus on education. Rene Bourque stayed in junior rather than go to the Western Hockey League in order to maintain NCAA eligibility, which he got when he was recruited by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2000.

"Rene went the scholarship route, he put his education probably before his hockey, and it all turned out good," Gary Bourque said. "Kids really have to excel in the classroom as well as sports. It can take them to unbelievable places like NCAA and have probably the best years of their lives through education and sports."

Bourque takes pride in the support his son gets from the community.

"To see people in Lac La Biche at the games in Edmonton come over and meet Rene after the game, that's probably the biggest thrill, to see people in Lac La Biche support Rene," he said. "Sharing it with the community means so much to me."

And the goals, like Rene's game-winning marker in Game 2 of the first round against Tampa Bay, are pretty sweet too.

"It's always nice to see them win," Gary Bourque said. "But if he's part of the goal production or the assist, it's a bonus for him and I'm sure it's a bonus for me, eh?"

The Canadiens trail in the series 3-2. Game 6 is set for Thursday at 6:00 p.m. MST in New York, with Game 7 on Saturday if necessary.

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