Justin Bourne is an alum of the Osoyoos Heat, having played in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League in 2000-01. In 58 games, Bourne put up hot numbers with 38 goals and 92 points to finish second in league scoring. He used that season to make the jump to the B.C. Hockey League with the Vernon Vipers, then eventually earned a scholarship to play four seasons with the University of Alaska-Anchorage. He turned pro with the Alaska Aces in the ECHL and spent 16 games in the American Hockey League with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders. Bourne’s professional career ended due to injury in 2008-09.
We connected with Bourne who is an NHL writer for Sportsnet.ca and co-host of Hockey Central on Sportsnet 590 Radio in Toronto. This article has been edited for clarity and brevity.
KIJHL: What has it been like for you to work in sports media covering the NHL?
JB: It’s been really cool you know. It’s one of those things that I played hockey for so long and had a life in hockey from the Westside of Kelowna to now living in Toronto. I didn’t want all those years to go to waste and use the education I have in the game in some way. I love hockey, it’s why I played as long as I did. Getting to stay in the game has been awesome and I’m grateful for the opportunity Sportsnet has given me. I watch hockey and talk about it for a living so I’m very happy.
KIJHL: Was writing something that always interested you? How did you get into writing after your playing career ended?
JB: It’s funny because the answer is yes. Part of what I’ve been doing is going back through my own career for something I’m working on, and I found a journal I kept during my time in the BCHL. I unfortunately didn’t start that at the KIJHL, I wish I did but I literally kept a daily journal all the way through and I don’t know many players who do that. That writing, I always kind of just needed to get it out. Maybe I don’t need to as much now because I just throw it all up onto Twitter, but writing has always kind of been natural to me and it’s something I enjoy.
KIJHL: What are you enjoying about the work that you do?
JB: I guess learning my own limitations and finding out that maybe they’re not as constrained as they were. I was not someone who’s comfortable public speaking. I was a captain in university and they asked me to thank the Booster Club with the year-end meeting and I just couldn’t do it. I had never done any public speaking. I dropped courses at the university where I had to public speak and I took some chances when opportunities came up to do this. I wanted to talk about hockey and if you’re not comfortable in those settings, you don’t get to do it. I made myself do it. I’ve learned a lot that I can do it and that the more I did it the more comfortable I got doing it, and my confidence grew to a level now where I’m very comfortable with it. As much as I enjoy talking about hockey and learning about the game and the history of it and all that fun stuff, I’ve enjoyed my own personal development throughout it.
KIJHL: Do you try to make a point of using your playing experience to write articles you feel people find interesting?
JB: When I first started in the media side of things, that was the only tool I had to wield that other media members didn’t have. The best players in the NHL didn’t feel the need to go into
media because they made enough money while they played, and then so me being kind of that next tier of player, and also able to write, I found there wasn’t a lot of people doing what I was doing, which was explaining the experiences from the inside so that got me attention and that’s part of how you make your career in media is standing out in some way. Early on I beat the dead horse with, you know, the players angle stuff as best I could.
It’s been 10-12 years now since I played so that has become less relevant so I do it less often. Summer hockey though is a dry content season so I go back to the well once in a while, but now by and large I go on my eye test or analytics or opinion. I don’t reference my playing days as much.
KIJHL: Are there any writers that you’ve leaned on for advice for your writing?
JB: You know, these are fun questions for me because it kind of takes me back to the beginning. My uncle Ken was a sports writer for the Star-Phoenix in Saskatoon so he’s definitely the guy. In terms of mainstream people, early on I reached out to Bruce Arthur quite a bit who was good at answering my questions. There’s a basketball writer named Paul Shirley, who was a player, who wrote a story called Can I Keep My Jersey, because he played all over and in the NBA and all over the world. I was like, that’s me, except I didn’t play in the NHL. Those are my experiences. There’s another author named A.J. Jacobs. I just reached out to people. I was floored at how many people had the time or took the time to respond to me and give me their attention, and I try to do the same now, but I have two young children and my two cats are here and a wife and a job and a house and it’s really hard. I look back at the time people gave me and appreciate it and try to get back where I can.
KIJHL: What was it like for you to get to experience playing professional hockey?
JB: It was really cool, you know. It wasn’t something that I set out to do necessarily. What I wanted to do was get a college scholarship and that’s part of where the KJHL came in. I wanted to go to school and the ultimate goal was not to pay for it and I accomplished that. That was amazing and then kind of once I got there, I was in NCAA Division 1 hockey and four years to develop and then just go on and see how this goes. It was great. The years provided a lot of the basis of what makes me relevant in media now, so I’m grateful for them from that aspect but also they’re just fun years and that was kind of early on in my relationship with my wife so nothing but good memories from it all.
KIJHL: Your dad (Bob Bourne) won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders, in your playing career, especially when you started pro, did you ever feel that pressure ‘Oh you’re Bob Bourne’s son so maybe there’s those expectations that maybe you should be able to do things that you yourself don’t expect.
JB: Yeah, no. I don’t know if I ever felt real pressure. The one thing when I finished university, I was a good player. I led my university team in scoring and I had pro opportunities.
The only team that offered me an NHL tryout after that was the Islanders and obviously I’m not oblivious to why they might have given me a little bit more than the other AHL teams that offered.
The only time I ever felt pressure was going to main camp with the islanders and to not embarrass the family name. If I was there and I was terrible, and everyone is ‘Oh, he is just here because of his dad, I would have been humiliated. I had my best summer of training because of that fear and I really had a strong camp and performed well. It worked out, but other than that I never felt pressure. I was never going to win four Stanley Cups. I didn’t play rep hockey until I was 13 or 14. It was never that for me so I’m grateful I got to where I got, but I never felt too much pressure.
KIJHL: Is there anything from your professional playing career that transfers over to what you do now.
JB: Yeah, everything. When I played I was a thinker, I had to understand the systems thoroughly and not just what I was supposed to do, but why I was doing that. Did it make sense for our hockey team? Maybe coaches didn’t always love that, but why am I so low in the D zone here? I always want to understand that, that allows me to be critical of NHL players today and actually I ended up working as a video coach in the American Hockey League for the Toronto Marlies in the Leafs system. A lot of that was because of my understanding of systems and my eye for it and that all came from my playing experience, so it’s the basis of everything I’ve done since for sure.