When he wears just a T-shirt, Mathieu Curadeau's left shoulder is always covered, hiding a large tattoo that covers the skin all the way over to his heart.
The drawing shows a man's face flanked by wings.
“When he passed away 2 1/2 years ago, I thought about making a tattoo about him because he was really important to me,” Curadeau said, “like a little brother.”
Luc Bourdon was 21 on May 29, 2008, when he was killed in a motorcycle accident near his hometown of Shippagan, New Brunswick. Bourdon had overcome wheelchair-confining juvenile arthritis to become a National Hockey League player with the Vancouver Canucks. Along the way, he had become roommates with Curadeau when they played for Val-d'Or Foreurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Curadeau was two years older.
“The coach asked me if I was willing to bring him to my billet and take care of him and everything,” Curadeau said.
“I thought it was a challenge. He came in and it wasn't very easy for him because he was from New Brunswick, and he was away from his family for the first time. He went through some rough times in the beginning, so we kind of developed that big brother/little brother relationship.”
Curadeau said he learned as much from Bourdon as he taught, taking pride in watching his protege advance. Bourdon, a defenseman, was the 10th overall draft pick by the Canucks in the 2005 draft. He helped Canada win World Junior Championship gold medals in 2006 and 2007 and a silver medal in the Under 18 World Junior Championships in 2005. Eventually, Bourdon played 36 games with the Canucks.
“Except for family, it was the first close friend that I had lost,” Curadeau said. “I was so proud of the player and the person that he was. I'm really thankful that I met that person.”
After the funeral, Curadeau told Bourdon's girlfriend and mother that he was going to get a tattoo to commemorate his friend.
“At that point, it was only words,” Curadeau said. “My mother was not too happy because she's not too big a fan of it, but she really understands the reason I did it.”
After checking out various tattoo artists, Curadeau was able to select a childhood friend who had chosen the profession. The first drawing required a trio of four-hour sessions. Two further sessions needed another seven hours.
“I was really nervous about the face because if the face doesn't look exactly like him, it's on your shoulder forever,” Curadeau said. “It's perfect.”
Once the tattoo was complete, Curadeau went to Bourdon's memorial golf tournament to benefit his foundation in Pokemouche, New Brunswick. Bourdon's girlfriend and mother were amazed.
Besides the face and the angel's wings, the tattoo includes the words courage, passion and determination, which are on Bourdon's grave. There's also a small boat because Bourdon was a crab fisherman and a little river going down the arm that represents the rest of Curadeau's life. It includes his two championship rings from the Komets inside his bicep.
“I've started a little bit on my life now on the tattoo, but I don't know if I'm going to keep going,” he said. “I have a little part that is empty, but I'm only going to do something that is really important to me.”