A player with the Bruins for over 20 years, Bourque retired in 2001, but his enduring popularity was evident during a visit to Yarmouth. Bourque was part of a group of former NHLers in town for an April 7 game to benefit the Gilles Boudreau & Friends Cancer Help Fund and the Lodge That Gives.
The Friday night contest, which the NHL alumni team won 11-5, was being followed on Saturday and Sunday by a local tournament, all part of an effort to raise money for the two cancer-related charities while remembering Surette, a Yarmouth County resident who died of cancer in late 2015.
Surette, who was 53 when he died, had coached local minor hockey in the 1990s and 2000s with Brian “Sumo” Comeau. He coached kids at the peewee A level, bantam A and AA levels, and midget A, AA and B levels. When they coached the bantam AAA level they were joined by Allan Surette as a coach as well. According to the weekend's memorial souvenir program, in May 2015 Surette suffered a seizure as a result of a tumour on his brain. The tumour was removed and tests concluded it had formed as a result of melanoma (skin cancer). Surette died on Dec. 21, 2015.
After Surette passed away, Comeau thought of organizing a tournament in Surette’s memory. He talked about it to a friend, Shelley LeBlanc, who suggested they make it a fundraiser.
LeBlanc – now president of the Gary J. Surette Memorial Association – got in touch with another friend, Glenn Bourque, who had been trying to bring a group of former NHL players to Yarmouth. The pieces eventually fell into place. The result was a weekend of hockey action at the Mariners Centre April 7-9, with a group of former NHLers kicking things off Friday night against a team of local players.
Among those on the local squad for Friday’s game was Mathieu Muise, who, back in the late 1990s or thereabouts, played rep hockey on a team coached by Brian Comeau and Gary Surette. Muise said this made the weekend extra special for him.
Muise said he was looking forward to sharing the ice with Ray Bourque and other former NHL stars. (Confirmed participants heading into the game included Bourque, Chris Nilan, Al Iafrate, Ron Duguay, Gary Leeman, Darren Langdon and Ken Linseman. Stéphane Richer was slated to play but was called away due to a family emergency.)
Earlier in the day on Friday, some of the NHL alumni visited students at Yarmouth Central School.
Renel Deveau, one of several former Yarmouth Junior A Mariners who took part in the game, said he remembered watching on television back in 2001 when Bourque – by then a member of the Colorado Avalanche – finally won the Stanley Cup.
“That was really special,” Deveau said, “so it will be nice to meet him.”
RCMP Cst. Kayla Landry, another member of the local team taking on the former NHL players, had taken part in a game with former NHLers in Yarmouth a couple of years ago and said it was a lot of fun.
Referring to Ray Bourque, she said, “I remember seeing him play when I was really young. I would have heard my dad talking about him.”
Like Muise and Deveau, she said she was glad to be taking part in Friday’s game. All three said they welcomed the chance not just to play with the former NHL stars but also to help a couple of good causes.
The game saw great fan support, with some fans in the stands sporting their favourite NHL jerseys. While the score of the game was tight in the first two periods, the NHL alumni team blew open the gap in the third for their eventual win.
The Gary J. Surette Memorial Tournament was underway Saturday morning and afternoon and goes again Sunday morning. The championship game goes Sunday at 10:15 a.m.