As he recovers from a broken jaw suffered during the ECHL season, Justin has started to write. Check out his blog here. When we caught up via email a few days ago, I told him he had to share his love story with Islanders fans. I thank him for agreeing...CB)
Everyone wants to know, and Brianna loves to answer. I love the answer as much as her; it's the re-telling of our little fairytale that gets a little redundant. Brianna is my girlfriend. I would love for her to be my fiancé, but I play hockey for a living. And I don't play private-jets-to-Montreal hockey, I play sleeper-bus-to-El-Mira hockey. The pay scale varies a smidge from the first type to the second, and shiny finger circles cost about what I earn per year. But that next level is so close...it's just so close.
sleep 5My Dad, Bob Bourne, won 4 Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders in the early '80s. He put up great numbers as a big man who skated like a runaway train. He killed penalties and was a playoff performer, scoring 40 playoff goals with 56 assists for 96 points. His reward for his service was induction into the New York Islanders Hall of Fame in late 2006.
I was playing NCAA Div. 1 hockey at the time, representing the University of Alaska Anchorage in the highly-acclaimed WCHA. The Islanders offered to fly me down to be a part of the ceremony, so I gladly took them up on their generous offer. No, thank you, I won't be needing accommodations; Dad says I'll be staying with family friends. Let me take this thing back a little further.
Bob Bourne and Clark Gillies are Saskatchewan boys. Clark was from Moose Jaw, and Dad from Kindersley (Netherhill, actually). They played baseball against each other growing up. In fact, both were so good that they ended up in Virginia, playing Double A ball for a Houston Astros farm team. They played against each other in the Western Hockey League - Clark for Regina, Dad for Saskatoon. Dad may have mentioned on occasion he was glad to be friends with Clark, the hulking power forward of a generation, because it afforded him the free pass from punishment other players were not so fortunate to carry.
sleep 5When they found themselves on the same Islanders team at 20 years old, the foundation of their friendship was poured. Both married, their wives (my wonderful mother Janice, and Bri’s wonderful mother Pam) were like two peas in a pod. They bought houses next door to each other, and their 5 kids became a little posse: my brother Jeff, and Bri’s sisters Jocelyn and Brooke. (Please note that Clark Gillies has 3 daughters. That’s another article entirely).
Brianna and I were particularly close. We dredged up an old birthday video (at McDonald's, no less. Way to splurge, parents), and at one point I can't find Brianna, and I call for her repeatedly. The pictures and stories go on, but those are largely for the pleasure of Pam and Mom. As the paths of Dad and Clark veered in '86 (Clark to the Buffalo Sabres, Dad to the L.A. Kings), the families stayed in touch. Even when we moved up to Kelowna, British Columbia, Clark would come to Dad's golf tournament with the kids, and all was well. What I'm getting at is, we were close. Really-very-quite close.
Yet when I was flying down to stay with the Gillies Family for Islanders Hall of Fame weekend, they were kind of strangers to me. I hadn't actually talked with them since I had formed a personality (still up for debate), and the last time I saw Bri I think she had an inflatable alligator around her waist and water wings on. The Gillies house is full of love and dogs. They have 3 Newfoundlands, which in case you were wondering, are indistinguishable from Clark if he's in sweatpants. They're huge.
I walked in, got hugs and hellos, and got slobbered on. Bri wiped it off with her sleeve, offered me a beer, and we all caught up with one another. She was my unofficial host for the trip.
We drank a lot. The induction was a solid 3 days of meeting at a different place to have drinks (fine with me), so Bri and I were comfortable enough to really talk. She was great. Smart, funny and cute, she was everything I sort of stopped expecting to find while trying to figure out who I'd end up with. I thought about how amazing it could be. I thought maybe she did too...
What? Oh, you have a boyfriend. Oh.
Bri and I got along a little too swimmingly, and decided to stay in touch. I had had a great week with her, but it was time to grow up and move on and all that mumbo-jumbo. We talked frequently after that, each time as good as the previous. January 2nd, I got a text from my brother Jeff saying "Brianna's myspace status changed to single."
Bri called that night. After a few weeks of talking, we decided we had to give it a go. We booked her a plane ticket to Alaska (by we, I mean our parents; we were broke and in college) to see if this could work. Not only could it, it did. Bri spent time with my family in Kelowna during the summer, and I spent the remaining time with hers in Dix Hills. I was training for my own experiences...I had been invited to Islanders rookie camp and eventually the big one. It was confirmed...we - Brianna and I - were officially an us.
sleep 5Brianna finishes her Masters degree in Occupational Therapy on June 26th (to add to her BA in Psychology and BS in Health Sciences). I finish my second year of playing hockey professionally here in the next few months, and we have some decisions to make. (I also have a BA in Psych, but that parlays into squat).
We can't wait to start our lives together, and the tentative plan is to move close to her sister Brooke in Boston and rent a refrigerator box while we try to make ends meet early on. I'm looking for work, hoping to write, and she'll be putting out applications. She's one of the best in her class in a much-desired field, so she shouldn't have any trouble. Our families love the situation so much they can't handle it. And we love it even more. So without further ado, I present my master plan:
I extend this offer to the Islanders: We will sell you the breeding rights. All you have to do is pay for the wedding, and we'll give you the guaranteed rights to our first-born son, breeding the styles of two Islanders Hall of Famers, restoring the Island to its rightful place of glory. The potential is huge. He could be Okposo’s linemate after a Chelios-esque 18-year career. He could be draft eligible while Ricky is still under contract. We’re building something here!
So whaddaya say, Mr. Wang? The puck is in your zone.
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