As a hockey fan, you hope that every player you cheer for has the heart and loyalty of Alex Burrows.
As a Canucks fan, you may already feel like you know Burrows.
After all, he played 12 years in Vancouver. We’ve all seen the big games, the big goals, the interviews, the smiles.
But I’m not sure we’ve ever seen anything like what was published in the Players’ Tribune on Thursday.
In an article titled “Thank You, Thank You, Merci, Vancouver” we get a glimpse of what being part of the Vancouver Canucks organization meant to Alex Burrows, in his own words.
As with everything we highlight in the Players’ Tribune, I encourage you to read the full 2,700-word article.
Here were the main takeaways for me.
It’s not unusual to hear a player go down memory lane about their first game in the NHL. For a professional hockey player, your first game and your first goal are etched in your mind forever.
But for Burrows, a player who a season earlier was playing with the Columbia Inferno of the ECHL, this meant a little bit more than your average player.
The former Baton Rouge Kingfish and Greenville Grrrowl (three R’s, not a typo), was living the dream, and he knew it.
I entered the locker room … and it was like I must have been hallucinating. Like someone was playing a trick on me, and had created a version of “being on the Vancouver Canucks” that matched up exactly with my fantasy of what it would be like. Like, there was Trevor Linden, putting his gear on. There were the Sedin twins, putting on a clinic in the pregame soccer warmup. There was Markus Naslund, there was Todd Bertuzzi, there was Brendan Morrison — the West Coast Express — looking up at me, giving me a nod. There was an actual NHL team, in the locker room of an actual NHL arena, getting ready for an actual NHL game. It was like, Are you kidding me?
Burrows told a story about how an exchange with then-Blues defenceman Dennis Wideman may have changed everything for him.
Late in Burrows’ first game that the Canucks eventually lost 4-1, he was shoved by Dennis Wideman in a scrum.
Here’s how Burrows described what was going through his head at the time:
Alex — they’re going to send you right back down. You’re skating around doing nothing … the team is losing … and now you’re getting pushed around? You’re going to be Alex Burrows, the guy who spends the rest of his life telling people about the ONE game he played in the NHL. Way to go, dude.
He said his entire NHL career flashed before his eyes, and for good reason.
It may seem like a long NHL career was an eventuality for Burrows now, but these chances don’t come along very often.
Burrows wasn’t the first call-up from Manitoba that season. The late Rick Rypien, who was three years younger than Burrows, got the call before him. Burrows was called up after Rypien suffered an injury.
He was a call-up for a call-up, so he had to make it count. A lacklustre game from him and a loss for the team could have meant a plane ticket back to Winnipeg.
Burrows was 24, just three months away from his 25th birthday. Usually, if you haven’t made it by then, you never make it.
Here’s his fight with Wideman:
Burrows only received 7:23 of ice time that night, and had two shots on goal, but stayed in the lineup for every game in the next two months.
“I showed them that I was a Canuck — and that I would do everything I could to remain one,” Burrows said.
Even then, fans of the Canucks could tell.
“We hated them so much. I mean, they had our number, for sure, so give them their due. But man. We hated them.”
That’s what the Vancouver Canucks thought of the Chicago Blackhawks during the heyday of their fierce rivalry.
No surprise, of course, but given how media savvy players and teams have become, we’ve become used to a steady diet of cliches.
It could be Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and you’ll hear players and coaches tell you it’s just another game.
Burrows recalled an exchange where he and Ryan Kesler, driving to Rogers Arena for Game 7 against Chicago in 2011, were confident despite having blown a 3-0 series lead.
There were no nerves, no tense silences. There was no talk of choking. There was just this, like … unexplainable conviction about it. Somehow we just knew. Man, we were going to win that game. We knew it.
And we spent the entire car ride reminding each other of it:
“Nope, not tonight.”
“We’re not going goodnight tonight.”
“We’re not doing it.”
“We’re not losing tonight.”
“Oh, yeah, I know.”
And wouldn’t you know it, it was those two players that combined for the 1-0 goal less than three minutes into Game 7.
They certainly looked determined on that goal.
Burrows confirmed that he thought the team would be blown up if they didn’t beat the Blackhawks that night.
I think the twins would’ve been gone. Kesler, Bieksa, Luongo would’ve all been gone. AV and the rest of the coaching staff would’ve been gone. And for sure I would’ve been gone. This era of Canucks hockey, and everything that we had built together, would’ve just been … gone.
Of course, Burrows slayed the dragon that night, and saved the reputation of that group.
Again, no surprise, Burrows is going to miss Vancouver, and he’s very appreciative.
I will still, in my own way, always have my heart in Vancouver. I’m leaving with too many memories to count, and an endless debt of gratitude, and the knowledge that I’ve found a city I can consider a hometown for life.
Then Burrows said something that really spoke to how aware he is. It spoke to how he wanted to do the right thing for Vancouver by agreeing to waive his no-trade clause.
I’m leaving with the sincere hope that this trade will be able to help the Canucks build their future.
Burrows ended the piece by thanking Canucks fans, and wanting to pass this message along:
As someone who came from nothing and then played 12 years for this franchise, I still kind of can’t believe it happened. But I’m so glad it did. Please don’t forget about me — and please, if you get a chance, make sure to pass along some words of mine to next year’s rookies. Just give them the following message: Wear that sweater with pride. And don’t let anybody take it away from you.
Today Burrows thanked Vancouver, but you can bet that Canucks fans will return the favour.
You can bet that Burrows’ return to Vancouver next season will be as emotional as it gets – for him, and for Canucks fans. The team’s Ring of Honour was made for players like Alex Burrows, and you can bet he’ll be inducted not long after his playing career is over.