Capitals’ Bourque faces sizable task

Many of Chris Bourque’s fondest recollections of growing up are from the old Boston Garden.

He would tag along with his dad to practice, learning to skate and play the game his father’s name would become synonymous with in that town.

Bourque was back in Beantown on Saturday afternoon and continued his push for a roster spot with the Washington Capitals by collecting the game-winning goal in a 4-3 exhibition win against the Bruins.

“That was my favorite thing to do - go hang out at the rink, skate and watch the Bruins practice,” Bourque said. “I idolized every one of those guys. They were my gods. To go in there, even if it was just an exhibition game, it was still pretty special.”

Bourque was a second-round pick by the Caps in the 2004 draft. There always have been critics of his size (he’s listed at 5-foot-7, 173 pounds), but Bourque has been successful in the American Hockey League and now is trying to force his way onto a crowded Caps roster.

He has a goal and an assist in each of the two preseason games he has played. Despite his size, Bourque always has been willing to throw his body around, and he led the Caps with six hits against Boston.

“He’s got a flair for the dramatic - there is no doubt about that,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s making a case. He’s doing well.”

Still, finding a spot on the 23-man roster is not going to be easy for Bourque. The Caps will keep no more than 14 forwards, and there are 14 guys with more than 40 games of NHL experience to pencil into those positions.

Bourque isn’t alone in this conundrum. Guys like Quintin Laing and Keith Aucoin - who spent significant time in the NHL last season - are likely to be on the outside looking in when it is time to set the roster for opening night.

“He’s a determined young man, and I really like him a lot,” Boudreau said. “There’s only so many positions, and I think we’ve got some good forwards. … It is tough. It is not an easy job this year.”

Said Bourque: “I talked to Bruce before [camp], and he said he’d give me a shot. What I’ve been waiting for the past three years is a shot. I’m trying to capitalize on that now. I’m trying to make it difficult for them to send me down. I want to be here as bad as any guy in this locker room.”

Although Bourque has logged 207 games with Hershey in the AHL (and 25 more in the postseason), he still is only 22. He originally went to Boston University but turned pro after his freshman season.

He might be getting restless about making the jump to the NHL, but here is some perspective: Had Bourque stayed in school, this would be his first professional season.

“I think it would have been a major culture shock for me to step into the pro environment [now],” Bourque said. “My first year it really hit me. It was a tough first year for me. I had to mature a lot as a 19-year-old living on my own and doing my own thing. That was such a big year for me. I learned so much from the older veterans in Hershey. I don’t think I’d be anywhere close to the player I am today if I had stayed in school. I don’t regret it all.”

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