Gabriel Bourque having a solid impact as leader on young Rocket team

Captain has no goals this season, but “he blocks shots, he finishes hits, he brings the mood up when we need it,” coach Jean-François Houle says.

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Gabriel Bourque has yet to score this season — and Laval head coach Jean-François Houle couldn’t care less, knowing the Rocket captain brings so much more to the young team.

“That doesn’t matter because he blocks shots, he finishes hits, he brings the mood up when we need it,” Houle said Friday, following an optional morning skate at Place Bell before a game against Belleville. “He brings younger guys to eat dinner at his house. He does team activities away from the rink. It’s what he does away from the rink that makes him a good leader.”

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At age 33, Bourque, the fourth captain in Rocket franchise history, has a few kilometres on the odometer. But both he and Houle believe there’s some gas remaining in the tank.

A fifth-round (132nd overall) draft choice by Nashville in 2009, the 5-foot-10, 206-pound forward has 413 NHL games to his credit, having scored 40 goals and 103 points with the Predators, Colorado and Winnipeg. The Rimouski native also has 338 AHL contests, and counting, on his resumé, and knows his time in the top league has probably ended.

Nonetheless, the Rocket’s oldest player is content with his lot in life.

“I’ve had a great career and I’m happy about it,” Bourque said. “I never expected to make that many games in my life. It (NHL career) started really well but then a bad injury, a head injury, slowed me down and I never came back to the player I was.”

During the 2015-16 season, his last with the Predators organization, Bourque suffered a nerve injury to his ear following a hit to the head, limiting him to 22 games. Eventually assigned to AHL Milwaukee to recover from the injury, Bourque wasn’t tendered a qualifying offer at season’s end and became a restricted free agent.

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After receiving no offers that summer, Bourque attended Colorado’s training camp on a professional tryout. He eventually played 119 games for the Avalanche, becoming a key penalty killer and role player. He then moved to Winnipeg, making the Jets’ roster out of training camp and playing 52 games as a fourth-line specialist. But Bourque hasn’t been in the NHL since the 2019-20 season.

Bourque’s career has been plagued by injuries — mostly knee-related — at various times, leading to lengthy rehabilitation procedures while slowly making his way back onto the roster, a process that has taken its toll. He played two games last October to start the season before being sidelined until Dec. 1 with another knee injury. In 17 games, Bourque has four assists.

“I’m pushing every year to get another year,” the married father of four admitted. “I’m happy right now where I’m at and with what I’m doing. I’m trying to enjoy every last bit that I have. I’d love to play a few more years, but you never know what’s going to happen and what’s the next chapter.”

The Rocket have reached the halfway mark of the season. While the team experienced its share of growing pains early, especially on defence and in net, Laval has rebounded and heading into Friday’s game against the Senators, was on a 6-0-1 streak, improving to 15-14-6.

“It’s all about confidence,” Bourque said. “We have young guys who dominated in junior. But you get here and sometimes don’t have the same impact. It can be hard mentally when you don’t produce as much and to buy into the system. But everything has come around at the same time.”

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