Former Boston Bruin captain and Stanley Cup Champion Ray Bourque shares his story of playing in the NHL and later opening his own restaurant, Tresca, in the North End
By: Riley Keefe
Boston has its fair share of celebrities and athletes who’ve staked their claim to neighborhoods, but few come close to Ray Bourque’s bond with the North End. The former Bruins captain is considered by many to be one of the best defensemen of all time. His offensive skill, vision, and high hockey IQ as a defenseman revolutionized the position and continues to inspire players today. Much like Bobby Orr, Bourque instilled confidence into the defenseman to charge up the ice and lead the rush. In the years that the Bs had Orr and then Bourque on the ice, the team, in effect, had an extra player on offense, making them a nightmare for opponents.
Today, Bruins fans can watch Torey Krug, who was recently traded to the St. Louis Blues, and see similarities in playing style; his effortless ability to lead the rush, act as a playmaker on the powerplay all while shutting down offensive juggernauts like Connor McDavid and Nathan Mackinnon. In short, players like Krug and Bourque are dangerous because they can play both ends of the ice. Bourque played in an era where names like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Jaromír Jágr dominated the ice with fancy stickhandling, but fans are quick to forget Bourque holds the record for most shots on goal in NHL history (6,209). Keep in mind, Bourque is a defenseman whilst holding this record, it’s no wonder he won so many Wrist Shot Accuracy Tournaments at the All-Star Game.
Hockey was and still is a major part of Bourque’s life, but the impression of Boston’s Little Italy left a mark like no other. “As an athlete and a hockey player, pasta was a big part of the food I needed to fuel my body with carbs, so Italian food was a big part of my preparation,” says Bourque. “Early in my career, the veterans took the younger guys like me into the North End after games for post-game meals. I then fell in love with the North End because of the Italian food, culture and heritage.”
Bourque recalled one time when the veteran players took him out to dinner, where he was vulnerable to some jokes to welcome him to the team. “We would get together as a team at various Boston restaurants, and the fans were always very respectful at our meals and fun to engage with. As players, we used to love playing practical jokes by hiding under the table and putting various sauces on the other guys’ shoes,” says Bourque.
An athlete’s diet isn’t what it was, take Gretzky, who, before a game had two hot dogs and Coke to “fuel up.” Despite this, Bourque recalls Gretzky (Edmonton Oilers) and Lemieux (Pittsburgh Penguins) as the toughest players he battled on the ice. “Mario Lemieux, when his switch was on, he turned it on. His size, speed, talent [was amazing] and Gretzky too, but Mario was the best I played against,” says Bourque. Today, it’s dangerous to think players can get by with two hot dogs and coke to play a whole 60-minute game.
While this isn’t common practice today (for obvious reasons) it’s interesting to see how far the game has come, specifically for sports nutrition. From Bourque’s perspective, though, he was doing the right thing. Even goaltenders today prefer having pasta or spaghetti for dinner to consume the right amount of carbs. However, goaltenders are on the ice for the entire duration of the period while players like Bourque had a break in between shifts.
In between shifts today, Bourque runs his restaurant, Tresca, working alongside Head Chef Richard Ansara to create and curate the best Italian and Mediterranean dishes the North End has to offer. If you’re lucky you might be able to catch a glimpse of Bourque at his restaurant before a Bruins game, maybe even grabbing a bite with the coaches and staff. Though the menu offers some of the best Italian food in the North End, there’s a secret “Off Menu” dish called the “Ray Bourque Special.”
As Bourque describes, it’s “It’s a Veal Chop Parmesan that covers your whole plate with a side of Bolognese. The dish is so tasty that Chef Rich has made it our No. 1 signature dinner for the restaurant. If you can finish the whole meal in one sitting, I’ll give you a signed autographed picture. I can’t even finish it myself!”
Though the best part of it all for Bourque is engaging with the Boston community, on and off the ice or in and out of his restaurant. When Covid-19 brought business to a standstill, Bourque and his restaurant stepped up to ensure he did all he could to help those who welcomed him all those years ago. “We never closed the restaurant. We did deliveries for the first time and created a new take out menu,” he says.
Bourque continued: “Chef Rich created take-home kits including Chicken Parm, Pizza kits, and other family meals utilizing our new take-home sauces. As a group, we continued our community service and delivered full meals to first responders each week. We also worked with [the North End Music & Performing Arts Center] and created a weekly opera program off of our famous balcony table No. 77. Regarding the Covid crisis, we have taken a multi-layered approach and implemented all the state and city protocols, and additionally, dis-infecting the restaurant daily, upgrading the air filters in the ventilation system, sanitizing all touchpoints in the restaurant daily, and strictly adhering to all government regulations.”
Tresca embodies the best qualities of the North End, opening its doors to newcomers while welcoming back familiar faces. Bourque has a special connection with the North End, and all of Boston for that matter. When he finally won the Stanley Cup in 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche, Bourque brought the cup back to Boston. “The mayor wanted to do something for me, I felt uncomfortable about it at first but I knew I had incredible support, everyone I ran into stayed to watch. I came back with the cup to [Boston] City Hall, I wasn’t expecting it but it stuck with me.”
Despite the Pandemic, Tresca is looking to celebrate an anniversary but will do under guidelines mandated by the state. “I really love the North End and the atmosphere is like no other place in the city. I’m proud that Tresca and our restaurant team is celebrating its 15th anniversary on the most celebrated restaurant street in Boston.” For players like Bourque, the North End is more than a street full of restaurants but rather a place he calls home.