Simon Bourque finds happiness and another shot at hockey at Concordia

Former Canadiens prospect joins the Concordia Stingers men’s hockey team.

Former Montreal Canadiens prospect Simon Bourque has gone from the Habs’ prospect system, where he waited in the stands of the Place Bell arena for his turn to play with the Laval Rocket last season, to calling the confines of the Ed Meagher Arena in Montreal-West his home.

And he’s okay with that.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a great group of guys. I was expecting to have fun here,” Bourque said. “It’s an easy go, all the boys want to have fun. I just really enjoy it.”

Bourque currently plays for the Concordia Stingers’ men’s hockey team. In eight contests, the Management student has one goal and five assists playing against what he feels is solid university competition.

“I think [U Sports] is real good hockey,” he said. “They’re all skilled guys that can skate and hit. It’s a different game than pro hockey, but it’s a fast-paced game and it’s real intense.”

“He’s playing real well,” Concordia Stingers head coach Marc-André Élément said. “He’s a professional; the way he acts, the way he prepares himself in practices. He works really, really, really hard. Just watching him in practice you see he wants to get better, he wants to improve.”

Save for the five business school classes on his plate, Bourque has enjoyed his time in the Maroon & Gold so far. But a year earlier, Bourque was trying to cope with a first pro year that fell below his expectations.

There was a time when Bourque was looked at as the Canadiens’ most dynamic offensive defenceman in the system. Of course, this came after Nathan Beaulieu and Mikhail Sergachev were traded. Fans were also still licking their wounds from P.K. Subban being moved to Nashville. But there was still reason to be optimistic for the two-time Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion.

Not yet ready for the bright lights of the NHL, the rearguard began his professional career with then-head coach Sylvain Lefebvre and the Laval Rocket in their inaugural season in 2017-18. Perhaps there were some positive flashes, but three assists in 46 games isn’t the most eye-catching statistic. All the while, Bourque grew frustrated with his playing time.

“I spent three weeks and a half in the stands watching games. I couldn’t get an answer why,” Bourque said. “I asked to go play more games in the ECHL, I asked to go back to Junior, and it never happened. They didn’t let me go.”

Bourque’s housemate at the time, goaltender Michael McNiven, knew he had some frustrations lingering but didn’t think he let them show.

“He didn’t really tell me much about it,” McNiven said. “You could see it, he wasn’t getting much ice. Wasn’t getting much of an opportunity.”

Laval’s debut season ended outside the playoffs, while Bourque sat out the last five games of the season. But there was still room to improve, and the 2018 development camp could be a perfect place to show off that potential. Two days in, Bourque was taken aside by management and informed of his trade to the Winnipeg Jets.

Winnipeg had plans to send their newest acquisition to the minors for more seasoning, but by then, Bourque had checked out. Being away from home, his family, and his girlfriend caused him to fall into a spiral.

“Mentally, I wasn’t really there anymore. I was depressed. I was anxious. It’s just a terrible mix of emotions for me.”

“Just going through the year last year and living what I was living at 20 years old. I don’t think I was ready for this mentally,” Bourque added. “It shook me, mentally. Then getting traded obviously was another shock for me.”

The Jets placed Bourque on unconditional waivers with the intention of terminating of his contract on October 5, two days after the start of the 2018-19 NHL season. The following day, Bourque announced his retirement from professional hockey and began preparing for a new opportunity: university hockey close to home.

Days after Bourque’s departure from the pro ranks, word had spread that the defenceman would suit up for McGill University’s men’s hockey team later that season. Bourque was eligible to play because of a unique U Sports rule that allows players who’ve played professionally to not sit and wait a year to play if they’ve participated in games prior to December 31 of the year they turned 21 years of age.

Sure enough, Bourque told McGill he would “probably” play for the team. But once the Stingers, and other schools, came calling, he realized he didn’t have to commit to the first program that called him. Bourque started texting Alex Cousineau, a friend and video coach of the Stingers about Concordia. Once Stingers’ men’s hockey head coach Marc-André Élément knew he had a chance, he met with Bourque at a sushi restaurant in the South Shore area of Montreal.

“I told him about our program and I told him about [the John Molson School of Business],” Élément said. “I told him he was going to be a key player right away. When I say that to players, I mean it.”

Bourque took part in his first rivalry game against McGill in early January, picking up an assist in a back-and-forth overtime victory over their crosstown rival.

“You play for those games. You want to play in those games: the most intense. There’s emotions in those games,” Bourque said. “I didn’t know what to expect but I could assume it was going to be a big game. But, it was, and it was a real fun game to play.”

True to Élément’s word, Bourque has logged minutes alongside key defencemen and former QMJHL players Alexandre Gosselin and Carl Neill while also seeing plenty of time on the power play. The players knew of his capabilities going into the locker room and they feel he hasn’t missed a beat.

“Obviously he’s a leader,” Neill said. “He was a captain in Junior and you can tell he’s a character guy coming in.”

Bourque is happy as a university student and hockey player who gets playing time, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t miss the lifestyle of being a professional. He doesn’t wish any ill will to the organization that drafted him and sometimes attends Rocket games to cheer on his former housemate.

Bourque also hasn’t closed the door on returning to professional hockey once his degree is completed. For right now, school is his priority, and he’s not planning on looking back.

“I don’t have any regrets. I’m happy with the decision I made,” Bourque said. “It was a real good decision for me and it’s going to go a long way.”

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