Hockey CanadaIn 2008, Kris Letang was playing in his first Stanley Cup Final for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Detroit Red Wings had stormed out to a 2-0 series lead, and coach Michel Therrien decided to make a change: Replacing his young defenseman with veteran Darryl Sydor. Letang wouldn’t play again in the series, which the Penguins eventually lost in six games.
Out of the lineup in the most important series of the season, Letang received a text message of encouragement from his best friend the night before Game 3: Vancouver Canucks defenseman Luc Bourdon, with whom Letang texted nearly every day. Bourdon wished Letang good luck, hoping the Penguins would come back in the series.
He also told Letang about the motorcycle he had recently purchased.
It would be the last time the two would communicate with one another.
On May 29, 2008, around noon, Bourdon was riding his Suzuki GSX-R1000 when he lost control and collided with a tractor-trailer near his hometown of Shippagan, New Brunswick. He was killed instantly.
Bourdon was just 21 years old. Only two weeks before the accident did Bourdon receive his motorcycle license.
That same day, Letang was on his way to Mellon Arena for an off-day practice after the Penguins’ 3-2 win in Game 3. His agent called him and told him Bourdon had died.
On the eve of Game 4, Letang discussed his best friend’s life with the assembled media, and his body language said everything. He was constantly rubbing his folded arms. Eyes reddened from crying. His voice affected by the pain that he was experiencing.
His body was in Pittsburgh that day, but his heart and mind were in New Brunswick. He would soon fly back to attend Bourdon’s funeral, which would take place three days later.
Bourdon’s girlfriend, Charlene Ward, was driving behind him just before the accident as he was on his way to a repair shop. The two met in seventh grade and began dating after they graduated high school. At the funeral, she wept through a poem she had written for Bourdon that finished with:
“You’re my sweetheart … You’re my sunshine … You’re my best friend … You’re my special someone … You’re the one who always puts a smile on my face … But the most important thing, you’re my one and everything.”
Letang would return to Pittsburgh in time for Game 6, but mentally he wasn’t ready to play hockey again.
“I had a skate in the morning and I could barely skate,” Letang recalled last month, as the fifth-anniversary of Bourdon's death neared. “My head wasn’t there. My emotions were [gone] out of my body.”
Not long after the Penguins defeated the Red Wings during the 2009 Cup Final, Letang got a tattoo that was dedicated to his grandmother and also his best friend. Bourdon’s portion was a guitar, one his passions. (Canucks management wore guitar pins in honor of Bourdon during the 2008 NHL Draft.)
“He was always my protector on the ice,” Letang said. “He was big and nobody could touch me if he was on the ice. He’s like a guardian angel.”
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