Today’s installment of Who Wore it Best concerns number 77. Only one player donned a 77 sweater for the Colorado Avalanche – and the number will be his forever – Ray Bourque.
Bourque only played a season and a half with the Avalanche to cap off his storied career. The legend started his NHL tenure playing for the Boston Bruins in the 1979-80 season at the tender age of 19. Over his 20-year career in Boston, he played in 1,518 regular season games where he earned 1,506 points and logged 1,087 minutes in the penalty box. He was initially assigned #7, the same number worn by Boston legend Phil Esposito. During the 1987-88 season, the Bruins retired Esposito’s number and Bourque, all class, skated over to Esposito. removed his #7 jersey and handed it over to Esposito, simultaneously revealing Bourque’s new sweater underneath, sporting a new number for Bourque – 77.
During his tenure with Boston, Bourque participated in the Bruins streak of 29 consecutive playoff appearances. Twice, Bourque made it to the Stanley Cup finals only to come away without winning the final prize. During his final year with Boston, injuries hampered the Bruins, sending the team to the bottom of the rankings. Bourque requested a trade to a team with a chance to win the Stanley Cup. As the February 2000 trade deadline approached, the Avalanche traded Brian Rolston, Martin Grenier, Samuel Pahlsson and a first round draft pick in exchange for Bourque and Dave Andreychuk.
Bourque brought a new level of focus to the Avalanche who managed to get all the way to the Western Conference finals. He tallied 14 points in the 14 remaining regular season games before heading into the postseason. Colorado faced off against the dreaded Dallas Stars in the conference finals and lost game seven in a heartbreaker on the road. Many Avalanche players credit the disappointment on the return flight home as the prime motivator for coming back the following year with a vengeance to secure home ice throughout the playoffs. Besides bringing a solid defensive game to the Avalanche’s playoff run, Bourque also notched 9 points over the course of 13 postseason games.
The 2000-2001 season launched with a focused Bourque posting ‘Mission 16W’ signs around the locker room. The message meant the team needed 16 postseason games to win the Stanley Cup. The Avalanche star-laden roster coalesced around the goal, fueled by the disappointing end to the previous season, and a common vision for the Stanley Cup. And it worked. The Avalanche won the President’s Trophy with a dominating 118 points for the regular season and entered the playoffs with ‘Mission 16W’ emblazoned on their minds. By now, Bourque was 41 years old and still playing over 25 minutes a night. During the regular season, he led the defensive scoring with 59 points in 80 games.
The front office had recognized the window of opportunity before them and acquired another All-Star defenseman, Rob Blake, from the Los Angeles Kings in February before the trade deadline. Blake and Bourque frequently played together on the blue-line, providing a physical and skilled counter punch to opponent’s pressure while the legendary Patrick Roy provided the perfect backstop, the only season Roy won 40 games in his 19-year career.
The Avalanche advanced to the Stanley Cup finals. During the seven-game series against the New Jersey Devils, Bourque scored the game winning goal in the third matchup. But the Devils were the defending Cup champions and fought to the end, forcing the Avalanche to win the final two contests, including a game 7 on home ice. Coach Hartley, in an NHL interview for their series on the 100 Greatest players, said Ray Bourque needed to be on the ice for the final 11 seconds of the 3-1 victory and remembered he couldn’t keep his eyes off him.
In one of the classiest moves in all of professional sports, after receiving Lord Stanley’s cup from NHL Commissioner Bettman, Captain Joe Sakic handed the Stanley cup over to Ray Bourque, directing him to take the victory lap as he hoisted the cup over his head and tears streamed down his face. After 22 years of professional hockey, Bourque finally achieved his dream.
During the playoffs, Bourque averaged over 28 minutes of ice time per game and scored four goals and six assists over the 21 games played. Bourque announced his retirement shortly after the Stanley Cup win. The following season, his became the first retired jersey to hang at the Pepsi Center. The Bruins also retired his number that year, making him one of only seven players to have their number retired by more than one team. In 2004, Bourque was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Bourque managed a feat rare in hockey – to play at a high level for all 22 years of his career. His numbers tell the story. Bourque was named an NHL All Star 19 times (including his final season), won the Norris Trophy five times, and owns records for the most regular season goals (410) and points (1,579) by a defenseman in NHL history. He played in 1,826 games over his career, including the postseason.
Bourque wore a well-earned ‘A’ for his final year with the Avalanche. His leadership inspired his teammates to dig deep to fight for their Stanley Cup winning moment. Mission 16W became embedded in Avalanche history. While he only suited up in 128 games for the Avalanche, his 34 postseason appearances left an indelible mark. Bourque will always be the one and only #77 to the Avalanche. He’s an impossible act to follow.