September 10, 2017

Legends of Team Canada: Roger Bourbonnais

Though he never played in the National Hockey League, Roger Bourbonnais had one of the most interesting hockey careers.

Born in Edmonton on October 26, 1942, Bourbonnais learned to play hockey on his family's farm some 20 miles northwest of the Alberta capital. He would go on to play junior hockey with the famed Edmonton Oil Kings where his teammates included Pat Quinn and Glen Sather. In 1963 Bourbonnais captained the Oil Kings all the way to the Memorial Cup championship, junior hockey's biggest prize.

Bourbonnais had greater interests than just hockey, exploring an early interest in a law career. While he played for the Oil Kings, Bourbonnais enrolled at the University of Alberta. He graduated with a bachelor of arts the same year as he graduated from junior hockey.

Property of the Detroit Red Wings, Bourbonnais turned down annual requests to turn pro. A highly principled man, Bourbonnais didn't feel, and rightly so, that professional hockey players in the 1960s earned a good enough living considering the sacrifices they must make. Knowing that with his education he could get an equal paying job on the streets. Bourbonnais insisted on a one-way contract from the Wings. The team never obliged.

Bourbonnais found other options to play hockey and to continue his education. Following his junior career, he joined the newly created Canadian National Team. Run by the legendary Father David Bauer, the "Nats" were created to offer a pro-alternative to players who would rather pursue their educations. In exchange for tuition and board, the players trained together all season long, and would represent Canada at tournaments such as the Olympics and the World Championships. For a player like Bourbonnais, such a team was ideal.

Bourbonnais joined the Nats in 1963. The team was based in Vancouver, where Bourbonnais was admitted to the University of British Columbia's law school. The team would later move camp to Winnipeg, forcing Bourbonnais to transfer to the University of Manitoba.

As you would expect, Bourbonnais' academic schedule was hectic and didn't always mesh well with his hockey training. Bourbonnais would miss weeks of classes at a time. Sometimes he got special permission to miss the classes. Other times he would have a friend duplicate notes and send them to Bourbonnais immediately, whether he was in Canada or Europe.

Bourbonnais was part of the 1964 Olympic team in Innsbruck, Austria. Canada lost 1-0 to the Soviets. A victory would have given Canada a gold medal. The loss, in the Olympics extremely complicated set of rules, meant Canada would finish out of the medals in fourth place. Bourbonnais had 5 assists in 7 games, but the speedy forward did not score a goal.

Bourbonnais would also participate in 4 world championships, winning bronze medals in 1964, 1966 and 1967.

Bourbonnais graduated with his law degree in 1967, and moved back to Edmonton to start his articling. He was given special permission to take a break from his articling so that he could return to the Nats in time to train for the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble. This time Canada would pull out a bronze medal, thanks in part to Bourbonnais 4 goals and 6 points in 7 games.

That would be the end of Bourbonnais' hockey career. For his dedication to his country and the international game, he would be inducted into the IIHF Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999.

Morris Mott, a Nats teammate who earned a Ph.D in history, described Bourbonnais the player as follows:

"As a player he was a good skater, a solid checker, well balanced on his feet. He had a poor shot. His skating stride was as good as I ever saw. He was the demonstrator for a skating instructional film made back then. He was a low-key person and a good, solid player."

Mott added the following about Bourbonnais, the man:

"A very direct type of person, he had certain things he wanted to accomplish, he wanted to be a lawyer. More than the rest of us on the National team, he was career oriented. He knew hew was going to do something besides be a hockey player."

That's exactly what Bourbonnais did. He practiced law in his hometown of Edmonton up until 1980, when he admits he became burned out. He took his family to Europe and traveled the entire continent for most of that year, gaining the experience of a life time. When he returned he moved to Vancouver, where he began practicing law with the firm Alexander, Holburn, Beaudin and Lang. He remains with the firm to this day. The firm's website says the following about Bourbonnais:

Roger Bourbonnais is a member of the firm's Banking & Lending, and Real Estate Law Practice. His practice is primarily corporate commercial-based with an emphasis on real estate law, commercial and institutional lending, business acquisitions, estate planning, and the administration of wills and estates.

Two of his most important duties are commercial lending documentation for life insurance companies, pension funds and banks, as well as representing NHL general managers and coaches in negotiations with contracts.

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