Ask any athlete how they'd like to leave the game and they'll respond, "On top." Lanny McDonald is one of the few ever to get that opportunity. In his final NHL game, Lanny scored a goal to help his Flames defeat the Montreal Canadiens and win Calgary's first franchise Stanley Cup championship. "Boy, it's a sign! It's time I was outta here! What a great way to go," he reminisced.
Growing up in Montreal, Ray Bourque vividly recalled watching the Canadiens skate around the ice after winning yet another in what seemed like an endless parade of Stanley Cup championships. "I thought about it many times," smiled Ray. "You wondered if you were ever going to get the chance (to win one yourself)."
After 1,518 games played entirely in the black and gold of the Boston Bruins between 1979 and 2000, Bourque decided he wanted to taste a championship of his own, and wasn't going to win one with his beloved, albeit long-suffering, Boston Bruins. "The situation in Boston was getting darker and darker in terms of competing for the playoffs or the Stanley Cup," he admitted. "I realized we weren't going to be part of the playoffs and I seriously started thinking of a move."
After much soul-searching and prolonged discussions with his family, Bourque asked the Bruins' management to consider trading him to a contender so he could achieve the one piece of his personal and professional puzzle that had eluded him. "I want to compete for a Stanley Cup," he told a newspaper reporter at that time. "It's the one thing I haven't accomplished yet and I wanted to be traded to a contender. And, at this time in my career, I need a challenge. I really need to find out what's left in Ray Bourque and a challenge like this will bring out the best in me."
The Bruins' Harry Sinden begrudgingly agreed and after perusing offers from a number of teams, settled on a deal with Colorado on March 6, 2000 that would send Bourque and Dave Andreychuk to the Avalanche in return for Brian Rolston, Martin Grenier and Sami Pahlsson plus a first round draft pick.
"I had been mulling this over for more than a month," said Bourque, speaking about the transaction. "This was a selfish move in terms of my career," he admitted in a Sports Illustrated interview. "I know it's a shocker that I made a move like this, because everything I've done in my life has been safe, safe, safe."
The trade to Colorado almost fulfilled Bourque's his dream in the spring of 2000, but the Avalanche fell short, losing to the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final.
They didn't miss their mark in 2001.
Finally, on June 9, 2001, following a 3-1 Game 7 victory over the defending champion New Jersey Devils, Avalanche captain Joe Sakic accepted the Stanley Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, then immediately handed hockey's most prestigious trophy to teammate Ray Bourque. With a smile that lit up the tumultuous Pepsi Center, Bourque grabbed the Cup, kissed it, then hoisted it over his head in the pose reserved for champions. "I couldn't breathe the last thirty seconds, and it wasn't because I was tired," he laughed. "I was trying to hold back the tears; the emotion!" Bourque had waited longer to win his first Stanley Cup championship than any other Cup-winning player in the history of Stanley Cup competition. Twenty-two seasons. Twenty-two gruelling, challenging, extraordinary seasons.
Patrick Roy, who was 2001's recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy, winning for an unprecedented third time as the NHL's top playoff performer, watched his teammate and commented, "Winning the Conn Smythe is special but not as special as seeing Ray win the Cup."
To thank his many fans in Boston, on June 12, 2001, Bourque returned to that city with the newly-won trophy and in an emotional rally at City Hall Plaza, thanked some 20,000 cheering fans for their overwhelming support through the years. On June 26, Ray Bourque announced his retirement, having accomplished the last of his many hockey goals.
He did it he went out on top.
Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and On-Line Features at the Hockey Hall of Fame.