Sons' futures inherited from fathers' pasts

Updated: June 27, 2004, 3:37 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | Special to ESPN.com

RALEIGH, N.C. -- If blood is thicker than water, is it also thicker than ice?

What about for those young men for whom ice runs through their veins? Young men like Chris Bourque.

Bourque's life has always been hockey. Like many sons of NHLers, he would take the ice before his father, Ray, and the rest of the Boston Bruins practiced and then again as soon as they were finished.

Saturday, the diminutive Bourque, listed at 5-foot-7, surprised many when he was selected 33rd overall by the Washington Capitals.

Bloodline stories are as old as the league itself. Fathers, sons, brothers, cousins, nephews, every year there is a new crop of youngsters who bring that little something else to the equation when it comes time for general managers and player personnel directors to make that selection -- a name.

In recent years the sons of familiar NHL names like Bobby Nystrom, Colin Campbell, Steve Tambellini, J.P. Parise and Ted Nolan have heard their names called at the NHL draft. This year it was Ray Bourque, Craig Ludwig and Ryan Walter whose sons stepped into the NHL limelight. Trevor Ludwig, a 6-1, 200-pound defenseman, was selected by his dad's employer, the Dallas Stars. Ben Walter, a 6-1, 195-pound center whose dad played for the Montreal Canadiens, was picked by his dad's longtime rivals, the Boston Bruins.

"I think the genes obviously don't hurt. They know what he's been exposed to," said Ray Bourque, who has helped coach his son for the past three years at Cushing Academy. "Obviously you're looked at in a certain way because of your name."

Certainly, being the son of a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest defensemen of all time brings a life of privilege and access that is the stuff of dreams for other young hockey players. With that privilege, the autographed sticks and jerseys, the trips to awards dinners and All-Star games, comes a front row seat in the hockey classroom. From the time he could tie his own skates Chris Bourque, 18, has been watching the game's best prepare and work out, enjoy victory and deal with defeat, work through slumps and celebrate winning streaks.

"That can only make you better and more aware of how you have to prepare," Ray Bourque said.

As both a hockey father and coach, Ray Bourque said his son's size has little to do with his heart.

"He plays on the edge," his father said. "He plays with a major edge on his game."

After recording 90 points in 31 games at Cushing, Bourque the younger will join Boston University as a freshman in the fall.

"I've been around the rinks all my life. See how they get ready, play the game. I think I've learned a lot from that," Christopher Bourque said. "Everything I learned from him."

Capitals GM George McPhee said their scouts liked Bourque for his play not his name. But, he added, there is no disputing the intrinsic value of coming from a hockey background.

"A young player will benefit from having dinner conversations with a parent that's played the game and played at the level that Ray Bourque played at," McPhee said.

Growing up in the inner circle of professional hockey does bring its own double-edged hazards. There are the expectations, real or perceived, and the pressure to live up to those expectations.

"I think it made me work harder," said Ben Walter, whose father played 1,003 NHL games over a 15-year career, which included winning a Stanley Cup in Montreal in 1986.

Drafted by the Boston Bruins in the fifth round, 160th overall, Walter, 20, said his first hockey memories include taking shots on Patrick Roy before practice in the Montreal forum.

"I was in the dressing room every day. I think it gave me my passion for the game," he said.

As well-wishers congratulated Ryan Walter on his son's accomplishments he said the success is purely his son's. A 6-foot-1 center, Ben Walter is entering his second year at UMass-Lowell. He missed three weeks last season with a knee injury but still had 34 points in 35 games.

"Nothing has been easy for him," Ryan Walter said. "He's had to work his crackers off every day."

The only advantage he feels his son had coming from a hockey family is that "he's seen the type of commitment it takes."

Boston GM Mike O'Connell is clearly comfortable with the bloodline element, as this marks the third straight draft in which the B's have selected the son of a former NHLer. Last year the Bruins selected Benoit Mondou, the son of Pierre, a three-time Cup winner with Montreal. The year before it was Hall of Famer Peter Stastny's son Yan.

"He knows it, he's lived it," O'Connell said, referring to Walter. "He has a better idea of what it's going to take."

Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.