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Patrick Reusse: Burke is a mighty proud Duck

  • Article by: Patrick Reusse
  • Star Tribune
  • April 14, 2007 - 10:59 PM

ANAHEIM, CALIF. - Brian Burke was 12 when he moved from his home state of Rhode Island to Edina. "We moved right when the state hockey tournament was going on," he said. "Watching it, I fell in love with the tournament ... with the game. Before then, I only had stumbled around a little on skates."

Burke paused to take a sip from the coffee cup on the desk in his large office at the Honda Center.

"I'm proud of the fact I was able to earn the right to play for Bart Larson at Edina West, to play major college hockey [at Providence] and to play for a short time in the minors," he said. "That was pretty good for a kid who didn't start playing organized hockey until he was 13."

Burke, now 51, passed on the chance to be come a hockey vagabond in the minors. He went to Harvard Law School and graduated in the early 1980s.

He turned his attention to hockey's executive branch. He was Vancouver's assistant general manager, Hartford's GM, the NHL's director of hockey operations and then the president and GM back in Vancouver.

He came to Anaheim in 2004 as the executive vice president and general manager. He gritted his teeth during a lockout year with the Ducks, then started remaking a team that had three Eastern Europeans -- Sergei Fedorov, Vinny Prospal and Petr Sykora -- as its leading scorers. They are all gone.

"I like the North American hockey player," Burke said. "I don't make any secret of that. When I came here, we had one American, Keith Carney, playing for us. There are too many good players in this country to have that situation.

"I also like the toughness, the hunger of the Canadian player ... the idea that they grew up dreaming about winning the Stanley Cup."

Sip of coffee.

"Look, I don't care what color passport a player has," he said. "But to a certain extent, the type of player I'm going to have on my team -- a player who can skate, hit and will always fight for the puck, always ... a lot of those guys are North Americans."

More coffee.

"There are definitely Europeans who fit the same mold," he said. "Sami Pahlsson ... I love the intensity he brings to every shift. He's a Swede, but the joke here is that Sami thinks he's from Red Deer [Alberta]."

The best way to picture what Burke dreams of in his NHL team is to look at the Ducks' second line:

The center is Ryan Getzlaf, 21, 6-4 and 211, fast, strong and always looking to drive into the opponents' zone. The right wing is Corey Perry, 21, 6-3, lean, talented with the puck and feisty enough. The left wing is Dustin Penner, 24, gigantic [6-4, 245] and a strong skater, a combination that is a real problem for anyone trying to keep him away from the net.

Penner had the winning goal in Wednesday's 2-1 victory over the Wild. Getzlaf's dynamic backhand in a shorthanded situation made it 3-1 for the Ducks on Friday, and they held on for a 3-2 victory.

Getzlaf is from Regina, Saskatchewan, and Perry is from Peterborough, Ontario. They were first-round draft choices in 2003. Penner, from Winkler, Manitoba, was signed as a free agent in May 2004.

"I can't take credit for any of them," Burke said. "I inherited all three. They started playing together when Penner was called up at the end of last season. [Coach] Randy Carlyle has kept them together for the most part, and they are a challenge for any opponent."

The Ducks have 25 players on their playoff roster. Nineteen are Canadians, three are Americans and three are Europeans. The Euros are Pahlsson (who thinks he's from Red Deer), superstar Teemu Selanne from Helsinki, Finland, and Ilya Bryzgalov, a Russian who has been the starting goaltender for the first two games.

Mark Whicker from the Orange County Register put it this way early in the season: "With Brian Burke in charge, the Ducks are becoming as Canadian as curling, smoked meat and the Tragically Hip."

Burke has no need to be defensive about his roster -- not coming off a 110-point season and the No. 2 seed in the mighty Western Conference.

When you bring up the subject, he will offer this reminder:

"I had nine Europeans in Vancouver and I was happy to have them all. I brought in the Sedin twins [Daniel and Henrik]. Whenever I run into anyone who has just watched the Canucks, they say, 'How about the twins?' My response is, 'What took so long?' "

Another shot of coffee and a slight smile.

"I love the way the twins play hockey," Burke said. "They have become exceptional players, just as we envisioned."

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. • preusse@startribune.com

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