With an unruly mop of curly blonde hair and a clean-shaven face, young Alex Bourret slipped on the Atlanta Thrashers jersey with "05" on the back, a number representing 2005 — the year he was taken in the first round of the National Hockey League draft.
A gritty player who could skate, score and hit with surprising power for such a small, stocky winger, Bourret had been lauded in all the right places prior to the biggest night of his life — July 30, 2005.
Hockey's International Scouting Services proclaimed that "he is built like a tank, and hits like a truck." The Hockey News described him as "a skilled scoring machine."
None other than hockey guru Bob McKenzie said Bourret "plays the game hard and with an edge, often to the point of being mean."
So Don Waddell, then the Thrashers general manager, believed he had "hit the jackpot" when Bourret was still available with the 16th overall pick.
"When he makes it to the NHL," Waddell said, "we know what kind of player he is going to be, and it's something we're really going to enjoy in Atlanta."
The part of the quote that stands out six years later is the phrase, "When he makes it to the NHL...."
Anyone who follows the NHL closely, and the Wichita Thunder even in a cursory manner, knows the rest of the Alex Bourret story. "When" hasn't happened yet, although the stubborn Bourret says with conviction that he hasn't given up on the NHL dream — perseverance likely learned from his father, who worked more than 100 hours a week as a trucker.
Bourret's parents sacrificed for him, making draft night in Ottawa, Ontario, all the more memorable.
"I remember they were crying because they were so happy," he said. "And I cry, too, because they were crying and because they do so much for me. It was a special night."
Eleven of the players from that 2005 draft, including top pick Sidney Crosby, have reached the NHL.
Bourret dominated the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 44 goals and 114 points in 2005-06 before becoming somewhat of a journeyman, putting up solid numbers for three American Hockey League teams, playing overseas, and then spending the past two seasons the East Coast Hockey League.
This season, he landed in Wichita, drawn by coach Kevin McClelland's promise to try to get him back to the AHL, the NHL's feeder system. He has quickly developed into a fan favorite.
Today's Bourret has darker hair, ever-present whisker stubble, but he still plays with that mean streak noted by McKenzie. For reference, think Bryan Wells, Cory Dosdall or Dan Wildfong but with much more skill.
An agitator supreme, Bourret probably enjoys the verbal warfare part of hockey more than any other player in the Central Hockey League. Thunder supporters love it.
"I don't mind talking; it gets me going," Bourret said. "I think all the guys like it, too. I don't fight much, but I like to talk all game long."
Defenseman Andrew Martens, a much quieter sort, has an up-close view of the non-stop Bourret show. He's a supporter.
"When he talks, it fires him up," Martens said. "He seems to play his best hockey when he's getting under other players' skin."
McClelland, known as one of the NHL's toughest customers during his playing days, admires the way Bourret handles his business on the ice. When it's mentioned that Bourret seems to enjoy stirring the pot, McClelland laughed and said, "Ya think?"
McClelland added, "He brings a lot of emotion to the game. A lot of fire. A lot of intensity."
Bourret isn't all talk.
Although 5-foot-10, he is fearless and ferocious, laying the body on bigger players with great delight. Against Fort Wayne on Tuesday night, he played with abandon, causing several collisions that rattled the glass. Showing off the other part of his game, he also scored two goals.
"I score a couple goals, yeah, but I know my role," he said. "I need to do a little bit of everything on the ice, and tonight I did a couple big hits. I'm a small guy and it hurts because they're (the opponents) all bigger than me. But I got drafted in the first round because of that and I don't want to change my style."
After a slow start in Wichita, caused in part by a two-game suspension for the check to the head, Bourret has been dynamic and consistent, scoring in 12 of the past 16 games.
On a team with several offensive stars, he has nine goals and a team-leading 26 points in 19 games. His goal total would be much higher — probably in the 15 to 17 range, McClelland said — were it not for his unselfish play.
Following the game on Tuesday, McClelland said he has put out "several feelers" about Bourret to AHL teams.
"I think he deserves the opportunity," McClelland said. "He's come down here and been great for our hockey club. He's been one of our hardest workers in practice and in games."
If he so desires, Bourret can relive portions of draft night on youtube.com, but he seems more focused on the present.
While the small-town boy from Saint Guillaume in Southwestern Quebec has already done good — he is a celebrity in the town of 1,500 and even has a street named after him — Bourret is chasing the ultimate Canadian dream.
The blame for not making the NHL when he was younger falls squarely on his shoulders.
"I wasn't mature enough," he said. "I didn't train the way I should have. I don't like to think about it, but I should be there (in the NHL.)"
Consider it a lesson learned.
One of only two players left in a quiet Thunder dressing room after Tuesday's win, Bourret talked openly about his mistakes. Just as firmly, he said that he believes a chance remains for him to skate with the best of the best.
"If I get that chance, I'm gonna be ready," he said. "I come here because Mac told me I'm gonna get the call (to the AHL) at some point. Right now, I'm doing pretty good, the team is doing pretty good.
"I still think there's a chance, yeah, if I get the right call in the AHL. Maybe I wouldn't be a point guy in NHL, but I could score a couple goals."