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The Hershey Bears are retired Chris Bourke No. 17 on January 14, 2023, before a game against the Springfield Thunderbirds. The Bears would go on to win 6-2 later in the night after top prospect Hendricks Lapierre and Connor McMichael scored.

The Hershey Bears went all out to celebrate Burke that night. giving away mini posters to all fans as they entered the Giant Center and held an emotional 30-minute pregame ceremony attended by Burke’s entire family.

“The best years of my life were playing at Hershey,” Burke said. “I’ve had so many nights in Hershey that will stay with me forever. Tonight is one of those nights.”

During the ceremony, Burke received video tributes from his former Bears and Capitals teammates, including Jay Beagle, Mathieu Perrault, Keith Aucoin, Alexandre Giroux, Andrew Gordon, Eric Ferry and Karl Alzner.

Beagle, recording his congratulations from the frozen tundra somewhere in Canada (or Narnia) that he had in the background, became the first player in hockey history to win championships in the ECHL, AHL and NHL. Beagle played four seasons for Hershey from 2007 to 2011.

“Hey Burkey, just wanted to say congratulations on a great career and getting your jersey retired tonight,” Beagle said in a video provided to RMNB by the Bears. “You’re one of the best players I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with. I will always have many memories, great memories of playing with you, but I think the one that stands out for me is when you made me smile. Something I will never forget. Enjoy tonight, I hope you are smiling tonight. I love you. No tricks.”

From 2009 to 2011, Perrault played three seasons with the Hershey Bears and won championships with Burke in 2010 and 2011.

“I wanted to congratulate you first on a great career, but for taking your jersey off at Hershey,” Perrault said. “What an amazing achievement. You so deserve it. When I think of you, the first thing I think of is the two years we won the Calder Cup together. I found this hat that I am wearing today. Those two years were two of the most exciting in my entire career playing hockey, and you were a big part of it.

“Grateful for these two bad boys I found in my boxes as well,” added Perrault, holding up his Bears championship rings. “You were a big part of that team and I wouldn’t have them without you.”

“When I first turned pro and came to Hershey, you were one of the guys that really took me under your wing, showed me the ropes, and for that I’ll always be grateful. You’re one of the guys I looked up to even though you’re way shorter than me. I was still looking at you. What a great teammate you’ve been and I miss you bro.”

Burke was originally drafted in the second round, 33rd overall, by the Washington Capitals in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft; the same event that resulted in the Chiefs picking Alex Ovechkin first. The son of Ray Burke, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Chris had high expectations. And while he hasn’t reached the same heights as his father in the NHL in many ways, what he’s accomplished while under that massive spotlight is just as impressive.

“My dad, Ray, was a huge influence on me and made it so easy to fall in love with the game of hockey,” Chris said at the ceremony, teary-eyed. “Seeing him raise the Stanley Cup as a kid is one of the proudest moments of my life.”

Burke played 13 professional seasons in the AHL, playing 794 games with the Portland Pirates, Hershey Bears, Providence Bruins, Hartford Wolf Pack and Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Bourque finished with the 20th most points in AHL history (746), the 12th most assists (495) and the 40th most goals (251). He finished with the most assists in Calder Cup playoff history with 82. He was the AHL MVP in 2015-16 with 80 points (30g, 50a) in 72 games.

Burke spent nine seasons with Hershey, winning three Calder Cup championships (2006, 2009, 2010) with the team and being named the postseason MVP in 2010. The 2009-10 Bears team may be the greatest AHL team in league history. The Bears won 60 games and had a 24-game home hitting streak, both AHL records.

“My favorite Burke memory was when we played together on the championship team that won in Winnipeg (2009),” said Andrew Gordon, former RMNB blogger. “We were on the same page and going through that playoff run, me and you and Willie playing together, playing some big minutes, making big plays and the excitement you get when we have a big game or we scored a big goal, that. it was electric. You always somehow led the team with your passion, playing or scoring goals. I always tried to learn from you, even though you were a little younger.”

“Congratulations on your special night,” said Keith Aucoin (sometime RMNB contributor). “No one deserves it more. You have done many good things for the organization. Won several championships and I was lucky enough to be a part of two of them. I will always remember you coming to my apartment every day with food for pre-game lunch, zucchini and eggs I think was your favorite. To sit on the bench after a power-play goal and tell me I’m not passing you enough. So that was always a fun thing to do after a power play goal.”

“It was an honor to play with you, to be your roommate and teammate during those years,” said Alexandre Giroux, the fifth AHL player to score 60 goals in a season. “I’m lucky enough to be on the power play with you. You obviously made everyone around you better. All those years at Hershey were great times.”

While Burke played in a record six AHL All-Star games (2009, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018) and was a first-team AHL All-Star three different times, he finds more joy in the finer things. , as he played parts of two seasons (2015-2017) with his younger brother.

“Playing with Ryan was one of the greatest pleasures I’ve had professionally,” Chris said.

“Growing up with Chris as my older brother shaped who I am,” Ryan said. “He challenged me, inspired me, messed with me a lot. I’m five years younger than Chris, but I tried to keep up with him every day.

“As Bears fans know, Chris is the most competitive person I’ve ever met,” he added. “I think that in the first 12 years of my life I didn’t beat him with anything. Chris likes to win, and he did a lot at Hershey.”

Hershey Bears to celebrate the occasion Burke presented a five-pound chocolate bar and a frame jersey that included a hand-drawn illustration of him holding the Calder Cup above his head.

Photo by Kyle Mace/Hershey Bears

The current Bears team honored Burke by wearing his retro Hershey jersey, which included his No. 17 on the back. The team auctioned them off for charity after the game.

Photo by Katie Fri/Hershey Bears

The league brought out all the trophies Chris won during his illustrious career so he could have his picture taken with them.

Burke, along with her two children, Kingston and Harlow, took part in the jump-off ceremony at center ice with Dylan McIlrath and Matthew Peka. During his speech, Chris said of his two children that “there’s no better treat than looking out in the crowd and seeing you at my games.” He looked forward to returning the favor in his retirement.

Photo by Katie Fri/Hershey Bears

Burke is now officially the eighth player to have his number retired by the Hershey Bears.

Before leaving the Giants Center that night, he shared this final piece of advice with the 2022-2023 Hershey Bears team.

“Hershey was the highlight of my career and it will always have a special place in my heart,” Burke said. “To all current members of the Chocolate and Whites, wear the jersey with pride.”

Header photo: Kyle Mace/Hershey Bears


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