It's hard not to notice around the Canadiens' dressing room this year and on the ice that Rene Bourque seems to be a much different player. The simple reason for that can be summed up in one word - health. It's the biggest factor in Bourque's turnaround with his play, his attitude, and his feeling towards the game.
Bourque faced criticism for his play last season, which led to a very frustrating year both on and off the ice. Factoring in a mid-season trade that brought him to a new team, already facing problems of its own at the time, and things snowballed from there.
Head coach Michel Therrien, though, doesn't put much stock into last season or for the reputation that seemed to be growing on Bourque, instead offering a new beginning.
"What happened in the past, I was not there, so it's tough for me to judge. But, I know the player that I've got right now and I really like the way he's playing" said Therrien. "I always like to make my own judgment of players."
While his attitude and desire to play was questioned, it appears as though Bourque was really trying to fight through more than just a minor nagging injury than he was willing to admit at the time.
"I'd go to reach for the puck or race for it and I literally couldn't take that extra stride I needed" admited Bourque, who's early season play has resulted not only in a rejuvenated self but has contributed to the rise of his line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta.
"He seems to have a good chemistry with Plekanec and Gionta and I like the way they're playing" commented Therrien.
This was not something he was able to do last year, stating that it would take him about 30 minutes of warming up before he could even stretch and hit the ice. That led to the decision this August to have surgery to take care of what turned out to be more than a simple strain.
"I had the surgery in August and was cleared to play in the middle of December. I had several things wrong in there" admits Bourque, who went through a longer than anticipated rehab on the road to recovery.
But since the start of the season there is a difference; with Bourque showing speed, drive for the net, a willingness to battle for pucks and finish checks. It's resulted in not only more ice time and responsibility but he's become one of the positive reasons for the Habs' start to the season.
"I feel great out there now," said Bourque. "I don't even notice it anymore, it's great."
When all those factors are added up, it's no surprise that his demeanor and attitude around the dressing room is brighter, as he now is able to show the kind of player he can be.
When asked about the resurgence of Bourque, Therrien simply preached his fresh start for all mantra and likes what he sees.
"He needs to keep going in the same direction. He's working really hard; he's moving his feet and attacking the net really hard. He's got size and he's a goal scorer."
With Bourque seemingly finding his game and confidence again now with a new start in Montreal, he fits right into the new direction of the team, which has turned negative attitudes into positive reinforcements for the power forward.
"Right now, I have nothing bad to say about Rene," said Therrien. "It's only positive because he deserves it"