Friday, January 29, 2016

Sharks defenseman Brent Burns ,,, an impressive guy

By Larry Wigge

It was not one of those pick-em hockey games you played with friends when you were kids.

The game was for real: it was Toronto against San Jose Janury 9.

After getting a perfect tape-to-tape pass from San Jose teammate Paul Martin near the center ice line, defenseman Brent Burns playfully proceeded to tap the puck through the legs of Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri ... to himself.

With a burst of speed and powere he went around defensemen Dion Phaneuf, before firing a quick shot right under the crossbar to beat Jonathan Bernier.

Burns scored the all-important first goal early in the second period of San Jose's 7-0 win.

"That was huge, because I thought we were a little tentative," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said of Burns' goal. "We were almost in that waiting-for-something-to-go-wrong mindset. He just said, 'Screw it,' and took the puck.

"That changed the game for us. It really did. That was a world-class play by a world-class player."

The 30-year-old now leads NHL defensemen with 18 goals and ranks second with 41 points in 48 games. He's tied for third among NHL players with 21 power-play points.

Looking like a cross between Grizzly Adams and Sasquatch, it's hard for the heavily bearded, tatted-up Brent Burns to go anywhere without being recognized.

Because of that shaggy beard that seems to go on forever, the San Jose Sharks star blue-liner may be the most identifiable NHLer anywhere.

On the ice, Burns is 6-5, 230 pounds born in Ajax, Ontario. He was was a lot of late development in his last year in juniors. Yet, he was chosen by the Minnesota Wild as the 20th pick overall in the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

The Wild knew that he'd played a little bit of defense, but we had no intentions of drafting him to play defense. The team saw the size and speed and shot and figured he could be a power forward once he developed. But Burns just wanted to play. He didn't care where.

You ask him about his favorite player growing up. He says quickly: "Mark Messier. Great leader. Big. Strong. Great skater. What a blast it was for me in my first preseason game with the Wild. First shift. I'm lining up across from Messier. I was so nervous I couldn't move, you know?"

We also learned that reading is Brent's greatest passion outside of hockey.

"I've loved to read since I was a kid," Brent said, looking for a look of astonishment from me when he gave me that answer. "Seriously, I remember when I was growing up, we had a loft in the garage that had a fort up there. But I always seemed to be attracted to several huge boxes my dad had up there filled with books -- most of them war books. I'd sit there all day and read them."

Burns actually got interested in war stories by listening to Patrick Burns, his grandfather, who was an artilleryman in World War II. Like with everything else in Brent's life, the list of books in his library cover an assortment of subjects. The military tomes start back in the Roman Empire and include topics on the Civil War, World War I and II. He even has a book about the Viet Cong. Plus, he told me he has the complete Harry Potter series, nearly every word that has been written by or about Lance Armstrong and most of John Grisham's mystery thrillers.

Clearly, variety is the spice of life.

There's more.

Burns has five tattoos in all. He owns three guitars, two expensive racing bikes to quench his love for cycling and interest in the life of Lance Armstrong. Plus, he's got his own little Noah's Ark -- two huskies, two cats, two large fast-talking birds and a large and unique sampling of fish that includes a shark.

He clearly was born to be a hockey player, literally and physically. Gaby, his mom, went into labor with him while she was at a rink watching her husband, Rob, play in a recreational league game back in March of 1985.

Rob Burns was a metal factory worker by trade. But after the couple had three kids (Brent has a younger brother named Brad and a sister named Kori) a need to supplement the family income ensued. It's one of those delicious little tidbits we learned about in a couple of conversations with Burns this season. The extra job turned out to be a paper route that Brent and his dad had delivering copies of the Toronto Star ... and they did it early each morning on roller blades.

The best part of the plot of Brent Burns the hockey player came in his draft year when he grew a remarkable five inches and gained 15 pounds. It was at that point that he moved up front, started piling up points and rocketed up the scouting charts.

But making a change back to defense wasn't always without tests for Lemaire. I'll never forget the coach throwing his arms in the air in confusion over a bad turnover Brent made in a game in St. Louis. Reporters wondered when the experiment might end. To which then-coach Jacques Lemaire replied, "Hey, Rome wasn't built in a day."

After getting a few laughs at Burns' expense, I remember asking Jacques about the trial and error of such an experiment. He smiled and said, "All they asked racehorses to do is run, right? Well, not quite. Brent Burns is at a part of the development stage for a young defenseman. What I like most about Burnzie is that he just has fun playing hockey. And I really love his attitude to learn on the job."

He was later traded to the Sharks from Minnesota with a second-round pick for forwards Devon Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle and a first-round pick in June of 2011.

Burns' 18 goals puts him four back of his career high, set in 2013-14. He was a right wing then.

Ask Burns for something new?

"We got a new 'D' coach this year. Bob Boughner has been great, helping me," he said. "Systematically, positionally, confidence-wise, feeling good about my game. I think those are all really, really important, to learn new things but to also feel good about yourself."

Sounds like the position change for right wing is over. Sounds like it.

Makes you want to know a little more about Brent Burns, right?

Any superstitions? "When I get to the rink before each game, I try to focus on the players I'm going against. Their strengths and weaknesses. And ... I usually listen to the same CD's. Something to get my blood flowing like Good Charlotte or Guns & Roses."

If you weren't a hockey player, what would you be? "If hockey didn't work out, I'd probably be a lifer in the military. Infantry ... like my grandfather."

Lots of beliefs. So many interests. What is the one thing people would be most surprised about you? "Maybe that I believe in reincarnation ..."

Whoa! Even I had to pause for that one, before he continued, saying, "I don't know what I was in a past life. But I'd like to believe I was a lion or a tiger. Some sort of big predator, you know what I mean?"

Well ... no.

Just another day in the life of Brent Burns, star defenseman of the San Jose Sharks.

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