Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Brent Burns shouts out his own number ...

By Larry Wigge

Brent Burns is a rare bird.

He shouts out his own number ... often.

"I always call for the puck ... even when I'm not open," the Sharks' defenseman laughed after leading the San Jose Sharks to a 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Tuesday night with two power-play goals.

When he was asked by reporters afterwards what does his shout sound like?

Burns quipped back, "I'm sure you can hear it up there."

The Sharks took a 2-0 lead at 7:04 of the second period when Joe Pavelski fed Burns from the slot to the left circle for a one-timer. His second power-play goal came on a slap shot from the left circle high glove side at 11:58 of the third gave the Sharks a 3-0 lead.

Burns became the 11th defenseman in NHL history with two multigoal games in one postseason, the first since Rob Blake (2002, Colorado Avalanche). Denis Potvin is the only defenseman with three multigoal games in a playoff year; he did it in 1981 with the New York Islanders.

"Best I've ever seen," said Sharks coach Pete DeBoer when asked to describe it. "I think just how he can get it off from every angle, how he can get it to the net off balance, in bad spots . . . He finds a way to get it there. If it's in the right spot, it's going in."

In fact ...

DeBoer put Burns in elite company, arguing that his ability to play forward with the same degree of proficiency puts him among the game's singular talents and in the same stratosphere as Bo Jackson, the two-sport star who played professional football and baseball.

"The only reason there ever has been a question is because he's one of those rare guys that could be an All-Star as a winger," DeBoer said of Burns. "You can count the number of guys probably in history that could do that on one hand. Otherwise this wouldn't even be a question, is he a defenseman or a forward?

"He's just that exceptional an athlete that he happens to fall into that category. Bo Jackson, is he a football player or baseball player? Burns is that exceptional a guy."

This past season Burns put up his best numbers -- 27 goals and 48 assists (it was the second time in his 12-year NHL career he had topped the 20-goal mark). The two goals against the Blues give Burns six goals and 12 assists in 14 playoff games.

The defenseman from Ajax, Ontario, had previously also passed the combined regular season and playoff total set by former Ranger star Brian Leetch, who had the previous record of 92 points in 1995-96. Ray Bourque (1995-96), Leetch (1996-97) and Paul Coffey (1995-96) were some of the other on that list.

The 30-year-old now leads NHL defensemen who looks 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.

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."

"I had a terrible shot," Burns said as a kid.

So, growing up in Barrie, Ontario, about an hour outside of Toronto, he spent every second he could on the ice.

Dave McCullough, a part-owner of the National Training Rinks in Barrie, recalled that the teenager would sometimes Rollerblade five miles across town just for a chance to fire away.

"Any time there was an opportunity to shoot on the goalies, Burnsie would stand up and do it," McCullough said.

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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