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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Bob Lutz: Thunder’s Bourret has his mind on hockey


Alex Bourret, it will not shock those who have regularly watched him play hockey, was a bit of a malcontent in school.

“Nothing big,” the Wichita Thunder forward said. “I just didn’t like going.”

When he was in class as a child, his teachers pleaded with him to pay attention. He was helpless; all he could think about was playing hockey.

This doesn’t set Bourret apart from many children who grow up in Canada, of course. But Bourret’s obsession with the sport did go a little above and beyond.

And now, all these years later, he’s as in love with hockey was he was as a wide-eyed kid growing up in Drummondville, a small town in Quebec about 45 minutes from Montreal.

“I was sometimes in trouble in school but when I got into hockey I was aggressive in the right way,” said Bourret, who leads the Thunder into the best-of-7 Berry Conference finals tonight against the Texas Brahmas at Intrust Bank Arena. “I always told my teachers how much I wanted to play hockey.”

First, though, there was figure skating.

Bourret’s father, Sylvain, made sure his kid knew how to skate before he put him in a tough sport like hockey. So for more than three years, starting when he was about 4, Bourret skated as gracefully as a kid that age can without concern that somebody was going to level him.

“I didn’t like it,” Bourret said. “I was crying because I didn’t want to go but my dad forced me. He knew I was going to end up playing hockey at some point.”

The figure skating helped Bourret become a better skater and he has continued to add to a skill set that led to him being the 16th player chosen in the 2005 NHL draft by the Atlanta Thrashers. Bourret has played for nine teams professionally in five leagues, but his dream of playing in the NHL has not been realized.

“That’s all so dependent on what team drafts you and what position they need help with,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “If you get a coach who’s really not in your favor, then it’s difficult.”

McClelland is not one of those coaches.

He thanks his lucky stars every day that Bourret was available for the Thunder this season after spending the past two seasons in the East Coast Hockey League, last season with Ontario.

“Alex is such a fierce competitor,” McClelland said. “He plays the game full steam ahead and he’s got tons of skills, as you can see by the points he puts up.”

In 43 games for the Thunder – Bourret missed some time with an injury and played six games for Worcester in the American Hockey League – Bourret has 20 goals, 37 assists and 168 penalty minutes.

He’s fast on the ice and a tremendous passer, but he also loves to mix it up. Sometimes a little too much, he recognizes.

That’s why he tried to temper his aggression during the conference semifinal series against Rio Grande Valley, which the Thunder won in five games. Bourret was as effective as ever scoring goals and assisting, but he didn’t have quite the edge he displayed at times during the regular season.

“I still have to be physical,” he said. “But maybe after the whistle just stay calm and wait for the next play.”

Bourret’s style of play, he said, welcomes comments from opposing players. So does his status as a former first-round draft pick in the NHL. Guys he skates against like to try to get under his skin and into his head.

“I’ve heard it all out there,” Bourret said. “It’s no big deal anymore. I’ve heared a lot of bad stuff and they try to make me lose my calm.”

You can’t lose what you don’t have, though, and Bourret certainly has never put forth much calm on the ice. He was a kid who couldn’t sit still and he’s a hockey player always looking for action.

“He brings everything,” Thunder teammate Justin Sawyer said of Bourret. “He’s a complete player. I think he’s definitely the best player in the Central Hockey League.”

Many would agree; Bourret finished third in the voting for CHL MVP.

“The only reason he didn’t get more votes is because he missed some time with the injury and some time with Worcester,” Thunder general manager Joel Lomurno said. “He’s certainly one of the best all-around players we’ve had here in many, many years.”

From the descriptions of Bourret as a hockey player, you’re probably thinking he’s a madman off the ice, too.

Not true.

Bourret was reluctant to even talk about himself for this column, saying he prefers to stay out of the spotlight when he’s not playing hockey.

“I don’t like talking about myself too much,” he said. “I’m quiet. I think I’ve always been that way.”

Hockey, though, sparks something inside of Bourret. He’s one who truly plays for the love of his sport. Ultimately, his goal is to make it to the NHL, albeit later than he would have liked. Bourret is one of only four players chosen in the 2005 first round not to get there so far.

“Maybe I was not mature enough,” Bourret said. “I was probably not in the best shape I could have been in and now maybe they’re scared to give me a chance. But I’m more mature now. I’d like to get another chance.”

Check Bob Lutz’s blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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