I had a chance to sit down with Riley yesterday to get to know his story. I have found over the years of writing the blog that the journey players take to Allen is both similar and unique. Until you have a chance to ask them about their story, you don’t really know what they are all about. Here is the story of Riley Bourbonnais.
Riley grew up in Greece, New York. With a population close to 100,000, it is a contiguous suburb of Rochester. His mom, Laurie, works in the corporate office for Wegmans, a supermarket chain. His dad, John, works for a shipping company. Riley’s dad played college hockey at RIT and won the Division III national championship in 1985. Riley has a sister, Taylor, who is one year older and graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Taylor works for Victoria Secret in New York City.
Riley’s uncle and grandfather also played hockey, so it is not a surprise his earliest hockey memory is from when he was very young. When he was around three years old, Riley remembers just laying on the ice and his dad telling him to get up. Bourbonnais lived close to the local ice rink; there was also plenty of pond hockey and his friends all played roller hockey in the summer. Riley was fortunate that his dad coached him until he was about 10 years old; he also had a lot of other good coaches who saw something special in him and pushed him to always get better.
Riley made his high school hockey team as an eighth grader and again when he was a sophomore. His team won the state title and finished with a perfect 27-0 record. He was the leading scorer on a team that had four players go on to play Division I hockey.
After his sophomore season in high school, Riley decided to play Junior B hockey for a team in Rochester. He was looking for more hockey and his junior team (Maksymum Stars) offered a year around development program. In his one year with the Stars (2009-10), he led the team in scoring with 69 points (34G, 35A) in 41 games.
For the 2010-11 season, Bourbonnais enrolled in an elite private boarding school — Berkshire School in Massachusetts. He had two reasons for attending Berkshire: the education would help him prepare for college, and the fact he was playing hockey for one of the top prep school hockey teams in New England would expose him to scouts from the colleges in the ECAC and Hockey East Conferences where he desired to play. In his one season at the Berkshire School, he was the second leading scorer on the team with 35 points (15G, 20A) in 29 games.
In September of 2011, Riley Bourbonnais committed to play hockey at RPI. It was close to home (203 miles) in Troy, and with an interest in engineering, saw it as a good fit. Since his dad and uncle both played hockey at RIT in his hometown, Riley admits there was some encouragement to consider there. But, his family told him he had to do what he thought was best for him.
Riley’s next stop was playing in the USHL for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders for the 2011-12 season. There have been a lot of Allen Americans that played in Cedar Rapids, including Chad Costello, Gary Steffes, Jake Hildebrand, and Mitch Maloney. In his first year with the RoughRiders, Riley finished as the second leading scorer on the team with 39 points (17G, 22A) in 53 games. That first year in the USHL was a new experience for Bourbonnais, and it was the focus on all around development that stood out. To start, it was his first time living with a host/billet family. His daily routine was much more structured with not a lot of down time. In addition to three or four hours of hockey-related training, every player was expected to either work part-time or take college courses. The team was also very active in the community and all players were expected to participate.
The 2012-13 season was a tough one for Riley. He started the season in Cedar Rapids, and despite being the leading scorer on the team, he was traded to Sioux City. And, just six weeks later, he was traded from Sioux City to the Lincoln Stars. The hardest part for Riley was the changes in living arrangements and the differing styles of play & systems used by each team. It turned out to be a growing experience, and he made a lot of good friends along the way.
In 2013-14, Riley started his four-year career at RPI. He played 121 games and had 71 points (37G, 34A). By his own account, his freshman year was difficult, as he only played in nine games and had no goals and just one assist. His coach worked with him and he says, “I grew up a lot and matured.” Riley improved each season, and by his junior year, he was the leading scorer on the team. He was also the leading scorer as a senior and was a team captain.
After his junior season Riley’s coach encouraged him to continue to work hard and lead the team because he had a chance to play at the next level. It was then he felt all of the hard work was paying off and he could play pro hockey.
After his senior season at RPI was completed in March of 2017, Riley signed with the Wheeling Nailers and made his pro debut on March 15. Bourbonnais played the last 10 games of the season for Wheeling and tallied eight points (5G, 3A), including a hat trick. Based how he played in the 10 games in Wheeling and his senior year at RPI, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL) signed Riley to a two way AHL/ECHL contract.
Riley went to training camp with the Penguins in September 2017, but was assigned to Wheeling (ECHL affiliate) and spent the entire season with the Nailers. He had a decent rookie season with Wheeling, scoring 42 points (23G, 19A) in 67 games. He finished third on the team in goals, sixth in points, and third in plus/minus (+11).
This season (2018-19), Riley signed with the Maine Mariners. Because he was coming off an AHL contract, he was a free agent in the ECHL and could sign with any team. The assistant coach he had in Wheeling, Riley Armstrong, was selected as the head coach of the first year Maine Mariners. Bourbonnais decided to follow Armstrong to Maine. After 14 games in Maine, Riley was traded to Allen.
“It was a shock when I found out I was traded; it happened at 1:00 am after we got back from a road trip to Newfoundland. I had never been traded in pro hockey. Things just didn’t work out…I was playing some games in Maine, but sometimes I was pushed back when guys came down from the AHL.”
About coming to Allen, Riley went on to say:
“Coach Martinson knows one of my coaches from RPI, and he talked to him about me. Martinson was looking for a two-way center who could play defense, kill penalties, and help get a third line scoring. Marty called me and told me what he was looking for and that I would get a lot of playing time. I thought it was awesome.”
Riley has been great as a penalty killer. It is a skill he developed in college that has been a good skill as a pro. He has three shorthanded goals while his kill partner, Dante Salituro, has one.
Here are some questions to get to know Riley better:
Q: Do you have a favorite jersey number?
A: #10 has always been my favorite number.
Q: Who is your hockey hero?
A: Ryan Callahan from the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is a local guy from Rochester; I grew up watching him and I like the way he plays. We play a similar style of game.
Q: What is your top hockey memory?
A: Winning the state title in high school in 2009. Everyone was so close on that team. To win in front of your family, friends, and classmates was incredible.
Q: Favorite Actor?
A: Adam Sandler.
Q: Favorite Actress?
A: Margot Robbie.
Q Favorite Type of Music?
Q: Favorite Rapper?
A: Me and my friend during the summer listened to a lot of Kodak Black.
Q: Who would you pick to have lunch with if you could pick anyone?
A: Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. I was a dual major in college (Business & Industrial Engineering) and have a big interest in business.
Q: Tell us something people won’t know about you?
A: I am working on my MBA while playing hockey. The online MBA program is comprised of 13 classes, each seven weeks long. I am on my fourth class now.
Q: What do you like to do when you are not playing hockey?
A: I like to read a lot and follow the news closely.
Q: What chore do you hate to do?
A: I have always hated shoveling snow at home in the winter. Rochester gets a lot of lake-effect snow.
Q: Can you name something that has great value to you but not to others?
A: The ring we got for winning the state tournament in high school.
Q: Who do you admire as a leader?
A: My dad. He has done a great job in guiding me in hockey and life. It was his idea to pursue a dual major at RPI.
Q: Can you remember advice your father gave you when he was coaching you as a kid?
A: I used to pout a lot when I was young and things didn’t go my way. He used to always tell me to use my feet more than my mouth.
Q: What is the most interesting place you have ever visited?
A: I would say Italy is one and the other is the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Q: If you could live in another country for two years, where would you pick?
A: Germany. My mom’s ancestors are from Germany, so that would be interesting.
Q: If you could be anything other than a pro athlete, what would it be?
A: I want to be CEO of a company one day. I have an interest in business, so my goal is to be a CEO, an entrepreneur, or have my own consulting firm.
Q: Who is your #1 fan?
A: My mom, uncle, and grandpa are all pretty crazy. But, my dad always follows along and calls me the morning after every game. He gives me advice on what I should do, so I would say my dad is my #1 fan.
Q: When was the last time you lost something?
A: I was in Europe and somehow lost my keys. I didn’t miss them until we flew back to New York and couldn’t get into my car because my keys were gone. I had to bus home to Rochester and then fly back to New York the next week to get my car. That experience was brutal.
Q: What do you do to kill time on the bus?
A: I read, work on my MBA class, update my LinkedIn profile resume, and I watch Netflix.
Q: What has been your worst bus experience?
A: It was here in Allen when our flight to Boise was cancelled, and we took a 40-hour bus trip on a coach bus. I remember falling asleep at 1:00 am and woke up the next morning at 8:00 am, looked out the window, and saw the same exact sign I saw when I fell asleep.
Q: What was your favorite childhood toy?
A: I was big into knee hockey. We had a knee hockey court we made from the boards of a bed frame.
Q: Do you have a favorite motto or saying you like and try to follow?
A: Control what you can control. We had a guy speak to us in college about the mental aspects of the game and that was something I took away from him. I have gotten much better at letting things go between my junior year in college and now. I used to freak out at the refs and come to the bench with the wrong attitude if I didn’t score. I have made a ton of improvement in this area.
Q: If you could choose someone as a mentor, who would it be?
A: First and foremost would be my parents, but I have learned a lot from all of my coaches. They have taught me a lot about more than hockey. When I was in Cedar Rapids, Coach (Mark) Carlson taught us if you aren’t 15 minutes early, you are late. That has stuck with me in all aspects of my life. I am never late to things.
My coach in college, Seth Appert, taught us the importance of how we looked, how we dressed, and our appearance. He also taught us the importance of being thankful to those around us, and to make sure to say thanks for those that help and support you. One time, we had to clean the rink because we didn’t give enough thanks to our staff, and that was a good learning lesson. What I have learned from Coach Martinson is his passion for the game. He desires to battle and go into every game with a winning attitude. He gets so fired up for every game, and that gets the team fired up. He makes you a better player.
After spending time with Riley, you come away from the conversation feeling confident he will have a fulfilling hockey career. He enjoys travel & learning, and it is easy to see him heading to Europe to play hockey at some point…maybe somewhere in Germany. It is also clear he is preparing himself for a great post-hockey career. It will be interesting to follow his progress going forward.
Riley Bourbonnais, #23