SAN JOSE, CALIF. – Looking like a cross between Grizzly Adams and Sasquatch — well, if Bigfoot was unkempt and had no front teeth — 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, let alone in his home of Silicon Valley.
So there’s no way for the former beloved Wild forward-turned-defenseman to show up at a kid’s hockey game at Sharks Ice and not get detected, especially when his little guy plays on the same team as Joe Pavelski’s little guy, Scott Hannan’s little guy and Patrick Marleau’s little guy.
“They’re a part of the junior Sharks, but they wear Calgary Flames jerseys,” said Burns, who will play against the team he played with for eight seasons for the 15th time during a Saturday matinee. “So my little guy, he likes the Wild, he likes the Leafs, the Flames, and in the odd time, he’ll cheer for the Sharks.”
It’s hard to believe, but Burns, taken 20th overall by the Wild in 2003, is six weeks from turning 31 years old.
He’s no longer that kid who used to roam the Wild locker room with a big, gap-toothed smile. Nope, he has kids — two of them, 5 ½-year-old Peyton and 4 ½-year-old Jagger.
And, he’s developed into a heck of a player. Next weekend, Burns will take part in his second consecutive All-Star Game and third overall (the first coming with the Wild in 2011). He leads NHL defensemen with 18 goals and ranks second with 41 points in 45 games. He’s tied for third among NHL players with 19 power-play points.
The Ontario-born, kinda-sorta Minnesota-raised “Burnzie” has integrated perfectly to the California lifestyle since being traded to the Sharks for Charlie Coyle, since-traded Devin Setoguchi and a first-round pick that became since-traded Zack Phillips in 2011.
When he’s not lying on the couch or taking his kids to gymnastics or jujitsu class, Burns has gotten into golf and camps, surfs and bikes. He got into the latter in Minnesota, and Northern California is the mecca for biking. He lives five minutes from a 9 ½-mile climb.
“It’s a great place to raise a family and really get that love for the outdoors for them,” Burns said.
He’s also become a self-described “wino.” He and his wife, Susan, who’s an interior designer, love driving to nearby Napa Valley.
“It’s so close you almost forget about how beautiful it is there,” Burns said. “We love going up there and learning. I never really got into beer. When I started in Minny, because we had an older team and a lot of guys drank wine, I’ve always gravitated toward wine.’’
Learning the game
Burns wanted a family young. He realized this playing with Wes Walz and Brian Rolston, he said.
“When Brian used to bring the boys down to the room, I used to love it and I was just a young guy in the room,” Burns said. “I always thought it was so cool to grow up and come show up in an NHL dressing room and see these guys.
“Now you’ve got a guy like Patty Marleau that comes to the house with his kid to play and a guy like Joe Thornton comes over. To me, those guys are legends of the game, but to my little guy, he’s just River’s daddy or Brody’s dad. It’s just full circle. I think it’s pretty cool to sit back and think about it like that sometimes.”
Burns has always been a man-child, but always respectful of the veterans. He used to look at players like Rolston, Walz, Andrew Brunette and his close friend, Nick Schultz, with immense respect.
“I’ve been really lucky to learn from guys like [Marleau and Thornton] and see what they put in to the game,” Burns said. “I’m pretty lucky. I played with a lot of guys that were unbelievable in Minny and they kind of shaped the way I was — you know, work ethic and things like that — and then to come over here and play with guys like that, it’s been unbelievable.”
In a day and age where players often take the game too seriously, it’s refreshing to see how much Burns still loves the game but also loves living life. It’s like that overgrown beard. He started growing it out, and now it’s just taken on a life of its own. Today, he does it to raise money for charity.
A Shark at heart
He clearly loves every second he gets to play for the Sharks. He loves the aqua and black colors, the logo, and still remembers wearing a Sharks jersey as a kid. He loves the weather and “wearing sandals to the rink most days.”
“This lifestyle isn’t going to last forever. While you have the opportunity, you have to take advantage of it,” Burns said. “This job can be pretty tough some nights. As great as it is, it’s still pretty stressful, you put a lot of pressure on yourself to do well and to win, and when things aren’t going well it’s tough.
“So you’ve got to make sure you’re having fun and enjoying it. You’ve got to embrace the hard times, and kind of enjoy that pressure.”
What won’t be hard is another All-Star Game. It’s a family thing, and the entire Burns clan will head to Nashville.
He cannot wait to go on the ice with his kids.
“My dad doesn’t bring clothes. He just brings souvenirs to get signed by all the boys in the league,” Burns said, laughing. “It’s something you can go have fun with, you can do things you wouldn’t do in a game and just have fun with it. It’s a huge honor to represent your team, your teammates.
“If it wasn’t for them, there’s no chance anybody’s going. I don’t look at it like I lose out on a vacation. For me, I get a great vacation. I get to go with my family and relax.”