Rene Bourque wants the Montreal Canadiens and their fans to forget the listless, unproductive player they saw on the ice last season.
Feeling fit again after surgery in August to repair a tear in his abdominal wall, Bourque is looking forward to scoring goals again.
“I know I’ll be better than last year,” the 31-year-old said Wednesday. “I feel a lot better on the ice.
“I definitely have something to prove to the people here and the organization, but I’m confident in myself that I’m still a good player. I know I am. I just have to go out there starting next Saturday and prove it.”
The Canadiens first game back after the NHL lockout is expected to be on Saturday, Jan. 19, reportedly at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Bourque was among a dozen Canadiens who finally got to skate at the team’s regular practice facility on Wednesday after spending the lockout working out on rented ice at municipal rinks. They still didn’t have access to coaches or other team personnel, but at least they could get back to familiar surroundings.
They were joined by Pittsburgh defenceman Kris Letang, Washington rearguard Roman Hamrlik and unrestricted free agent Mathieu Darche.
The six-foot-two Bourque was acquired along with prospect Patrick Holland in an unpopular mid-season deal that sent Michael Cammalleri and goalie Karri Ramo to the Calgary Flames.
Bourque, who is signed through 2015-16 at US$3.3 million per season, did little to endear himself to Canadiens fans.
People in Calgary thought he was struggling with 13 goals and three assists in 38 games, but in his 38 games in Montreal he had only five goals and three helpers for a 24-point season.
That was after scoring 27 goals and at least 50 points in each of the previous two years in Calgary.
It turns out that his abdominal trouble was at least partly to blame, although the tear came during off-season training.
“It was off and on,” the Lac la Biche, Alta., native said. “Later in the season it got worse and worse.
“But at the end of the season I felt good again. I took time off after the season and it just didn’t get better. Then it was ‘let’s get it done.’ That turned out to be a good decision.”
He had surgery on Aug. 29 and needed two to three months to heal. That meant he was not officially locked out because he was injured. He was allowed to use team facilities and be treated by the club’s medical and training staff. He only joined the ranks of the locked out in mid-December when doctors gave him the all-clear.
Because of the lockout, he didn’t miss a game.
“The timing was right to get it done,” he said. “Selfishly, I guess, it was good for me. But I’m happy it worked out.”
He has had only brief chats with new head coach Michel Therrien, and hasn’t discussed his role on the team.
During Montreal’s dismal 2011-12 campaign, when they finished last in the Eastern Conference and 28th overall, a top line emerged of David Desharnais between Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty. Therrien has said he will look at keeping that trio together to start the season.
A second line would likely have Tomas Plekanec at centre with captain Brian Gionta on right-wing. Bourque could move in at left-wing. But Therrien may want to promote young centre Lars Eller to a larger role.
And if third-overall draft pick Alex Galchenyuk makes the team, the big centre who can also play on the wing would shuffle all the cards.
Eller said he is ready for more work.
“I’ve said before I’d like to take more responsibility and play as big a role as I can,” said Eller, looking fit and perhaps a little bigger in the upper body after spending the lockout playing in Finland. “We’ll see what the coach has in mind, but I feel really good and I feel in great shape.”
Also skating were Desharnais, Pacioretty, Cole, Gionta, Eller, Travis Moen, Josh Gorges, Yannick Weber and off-season acquisitions Colby Armstrong, Brandon Prust and Francis Bouillon.