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Underpaid Athletes: Jean Bourbeau

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The farm team might feed your dreams, but it doesn't do much for the checkbook.

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Jean Bourbeau hammers nails in the summer so he can pound the
opposition into the boards during hockey season.

The 25-year-old from Bonnyville, Alberta, plays forward for the Odessa Jackalopes, a Texas team in the Central Hockey League. He has a two-way contract with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the American Hockey League affiliate of the New York Islanders, and one stop from the NHL.

"Anytime you have fans appreciating what you're doing, that's huge,"
Bourbeau says. "When you step on to the ice it's awesome to see how
many people appreciate the game. But to be in the NHL and skate in
front of a huge crowd would be a dream come true."

Making the NHL would also provide a serious infusion to Bourbeau's checkbook. The NHL's minimum salary for the 2009-2010 season is $500,000. According to the NHL Players Association, there are 74 players who earn at least $5 million a year, including: Dany Heatley, 28, $10 million, a left winger for the Ottawa Senators; Sidney Crosby, 22, $9 million, a center for the Pittsburgh Penguins; and Henrik Lundqvist, 27, $7.75 million, a goalie for the New York Rangers.

The CHL's annual minimum salary for players with more than one year of experience is $8,437.50, so Bourbeau, like many players, works during the summer. Among his peers, he's one of the lucky ones: He's able to work for his father in the family home-construction business in Alberta, where he swings a hammer, pours concrete, and digs trenches for the going rate.

"I also train and teach kids power skating," he says. "Construction isn't the easiest work and sometimes it's grueling. An on-the-job injury that could hamper or end my hockey career is always a danger, but you just try to avoid that. If something happens, that's the way it is. I've got to get the job done."

For now, the kind of money he'd see in the NHL is Never-Never Land stuff for Bourbeau. At 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, he's hardly tiny, but he also wouldn't be an overpowering figure in the professional league, where the average player is 6'1, 204 pounds. Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara stands 6'9 and weighs 255 pounds.

"Jean has been a great player for us in a defensive role," says Paul Gillis, coach of the Jackalopes. "His game is killing penalties and blocking shots. He's got to stick to his role and he's got to do all the little things right. If Bridgeport runs into an injury, I hope [Bourbeau] will get a call. Anything after that, we'll take as it comes."
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