On March 4, 2011, Marc-Andre Bourdon thought he would be practicing with the Adirondack Phantoms, just as he had before suffering a concussion three months prior.
Instead, he got a phone call from then-head coach Joe Paterson the day before telling him he was being loaned to the Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL.
“It’s just like getting fired from your job, pretty much,” Bourdon said. “It didn’t feel good at all. It was my first time and I never really thought it would happen because that’s not your goal and it’s a pretty tough time.”
The third-round draft pick hadn’t lived up to his junior credentials — he was named top defenseman in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2009 — and his career was headed in the wrong direction. He knew something had to change.
“I just had a talk with myself,” Bourdon said. “I just thought I was wasting my opportunity. I worked harder and changed my attitude and here I am.”
Just seven months after being sent to Greenville, he made his NHL debut with the Flyers last season and played 45 NHL games, even starting the first game of the Flyers’ playoff run. With the NHL idled by a lockout, Bourdon is back with the Phantoms now.
Phantoms assistant coach Riley Cote said he hasn’t ever seen a player make a jump from the ECHL to the NHL in that time frame.
Bourdon is not sure exactly what was wrong before. He was trying, but just not enough. He wasn’t doing everything he could to improve as a player.
Being sent down to the ECHL was a wake-up call. Bourdon realized what he needed was right in front of him and changed everything: his training regiment, his eating habits, his sleeping habits, everything.
“I just used the resources that were around me,” Bourdon said. “The Flyers have sleep doctors come in, sports psychologists and nutritionists and I just started doing it all properly rather than just going to the meetings and barely listening.”
Bourdon also changed some of what he was doing on the ice. In juniors, he had been more of an offensive defensemen, tallying 22 points in 17 games in his last season. Now, he has more of a defensive mindset.
That’s what the Flyers wanted from him, Bourdon said. In his 45 games with the team, he scored four goals and seven points. He started to take pride in his defense, in shutting down opponents and trying to be more of a physical presence.
Cote said Bourdon also simplified his game.
“I think he had a tendency to kinda complicate the game a little bit, try to make that really long pass or that difficult play,” he said. “It’s a really simple game hockey, once you try to complicate it is when you get in trouble, when you start to make mistakes and, ultimately, when you don’t play and get removed out of the lineup.
“I think he just figured out where he stood in the grand scheme of things and what it takes to get to the next level. All the power and props to him for that.”
Bourdon is proud of the improvement he made in seven months — an improvement that earned him a multi-year contract extension in August — but he’s not done. He said he achieved one goal, but there is always another one and there is always another player coming in trying to earn his spot.
Bourdon has also had some injury issues in the past few years; a concussion took him out of the Flyers’ playoff run last season and another forced him to sit out a chunk of the prior season with the Phantoms. He sees it as just another hurdle to get over.
“I’ve had lots of things like that in my career so I can mentally get over it,” Bourdon said. “I’ll play my game and if it’s going to happen again, it’s going to happen. I’m not going to play with fear.”
That’s largely Bourdon’s attitude toward obstacles at this point. There’s always something but he just has to get over it and move on, rather than getting down and playing the victim. That’s what he learned from his trip to Greenville.
“In the moment, you don’t always realize it, but when I look back I think that’s what I deserved,” he said. “But looking at where I am now, it was a good thing.”