Bourque offers advice to young hockey players

Aug. 18—WOODCOCK TOWNSHIP — Two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins and current Penguins radio broadcaster Phil Bourque was the Greater Meadville Area Day dinner's featured speaker.

Wednesday's event at The Country Club of Meadville was hardly Bourque's introduction to Meadville. The "Ol' Two-Niner" is well aware of the Meadville Bulldogs hockey team.

"I love coming up here and part of it is because the tradition they have for high school hockey," Bourque said. "Everybody knows about Meadville hockey."

The Bulldogs won five-straight state championships from 1992-96. Meadville's titles came around the time of Borque's two titles with the Penguins in 1991 and 92.

Bourque's journey to Stanley Cup champion was anything but easy. He went undrafted in the 1982 NHL draft after two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with the Kingston Canadians. He spent the next six seasons bouncing between Penguins' affiliate teams before becoming a mainstay on the Penguins roster in the 1988-89 season. He adopted a motto of adding fuel to his fire along the way.

After a campus visit to Boston College prior to playing in the OHL, Bourque asked the coach about his chances at making the roster.

"He said to me, 'Phil, I'll be honest with you, I don't think you'll ever play Division I hockey.' That drive home was the most humbling thing, but I did not take no for an answer. It was fuel for my fire," Bourque said. "When I was supposed to get drafted and I didn't get drafted, I cut out a list from the Boston Globe newspaper of every player that got drafted. I put it on the mirror in my bedroom and in black Sharpie put 'Where are you?'"

Bourque believes hockey players in Meadville should adopt the same motto of never giving up.

"There's no reason a kid from Meadville can't go play Division I hockey. Once you get to Division I you never know what might happen," Bourque said. "That would be my advice, just go for it. When you're young and you're healthy and you're hungry — go for it and don't ever let anybody tell you you can't."

Bourque's tenacity is what led to an 18-year professional career, 12 of which were in the NHL. His favorite moment as a player was the first championship in 1991. The Penguins came back from a 2-1 series deficit to beat the Minnesota Wild 8-0 in a title-clinching Game 6.

"It's a flood of emotions because without getting into my whole life story, I was an undrafted player. So many people doubted me — I was never supposed to make it," Bourque said. "I was always able to jump over hurdles that came in front of me. I'm just somebody who started skating at 3 years of age and playing hockey at 5. To actually win a Stanley Cup? That's not supposed to happen."

After his career with the Penguins, the winger and defenseman spent two seasons with the New York Rangers and three with the Ottawa Senators. He played five more seasons in other hockey associations before officially retiring in 2000.

Since retiring from professional hockey, Bourque moved on to become a broadcaster. He's co-hosted Penguins pre- and post-game shows on the Penguins Radio Network and worked as a contributor for WPXI-TV's coverage of Penguins hockey. It's a career change he's had on his mind since early in his career.

A morning radio show was looking for a player to come on and speak in the late 1980s and Bourque took the opportunity and ran with it.

"I would go into the morning show and get that microphone in front of me and I don't know, I liked it. I liked talking about hockey," Bourque said. "They would push the envelope and I would give them what they wanted. That kind of lit the fuse. I always thought in the back of my mind, 'I would love to have a second career as a broadcaster.'"

The "Ol' Two-Niner" has spent about 28 seasons in Pittsburgh, eight as a player and 20 as a broadcaster. If anyone is qualified to say what makes Penguins fans special, it's Bourque.

"There is a passion to win, but also a fine balance of humility. When you think of, and I'm not going to name the other fanbases because you know who I'm talking about, they have an arrogance, a certain chip on their shoulder, a cockiness and a sense of entitlement. We don't have that entitlement," Bourque said. "What the Steelers have done, even what the Pirates have done in the past and now the Penguins. We were called the City of Champions.

"It's what we do in our everyday lives in Meadville, in Turtle Creek, any place in Pittsburgh. People roll up their sleeves. When they want something or have to get something, they're willing to get their nose dirty. That's how their sports teams are too and that's how they've won so many championships."

Alex Topor can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at .