Brent Burns, Wild thing

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 15, 2007 - 9:39 PM

Defenseman Brent Burns loves the wild side of life, certainly off the ice while living amid his animal kingdom, but also on the ice, where the fast-improving youngster flies around with abandon.

It is feeding time in Woodbury, and the only thing missing is the theme from "Jaws." Da na, da na, da na, da na ...

Bryce, a 2½-foot brown, black-dotted horn shark, is hungry. As Brent Burns pours hundreds of defrosted silverside minnows into his 280-gallon saltwater aquarium, he boasts about how cool his dozen or so tropical fish are.

"The only thing you've got to watch out for is him," Burns says, pointing to a neat-looking lionfish. "You get stung by him, your hand will go numb for a week."Ah, try six months, hon," Burns' girlfriend, Susan, interjects.

A love of marine life is just part of the beauty of Brent Burns. The 6-4, 22-year-old Wild defenseman dramatically came of age during the final three months of last season with a dominant brand of hockey that was highlighted by back-to-back overtime winners in March and two fights during the playoffs, enhancing his already soaring popularity in the Twin Cities.

Shadow Burns -- a self-described "goofball" with shaggy, highlighted hair, one missing tooth, four tattoos, a different-colored toque for every outfit and a permanent smile -- away from the rink and you'll discover there's a lot that makes this happy-go-lucky man-child tick.

First, while most Wild youngsters live in downtown Minneapolis so they can have a little fun on the side, Burns lives in a 3,800-square-foot home in suburbia that is part Animal House, part Animal Kingdom.

Sure, there are the extras you'd expect from a young professional athlete -- three guitars, lots and lots of DVDs, a pingpong/pool table. But Burns is also one of the most well-spoken, well-read athletes you'd ever meet, with a broad spectrum of interests -- cycling, animals and country music, to name a few.

His library spans the magic of wizards and witches in "Harry Potter" to the atrocities of Nazi Germany. He can talk intelligently about everything from the Viet Cong to Greek mythology to the tiniest detail of Lance Armstrong's life.

"I've loved to read since I was a kid," Burns said. "I remember growing up, we had a loft in the garage that had a fort up there. My father [Robert] had three huge boxes with tons of books -- war books. I'd sit there all day and read them."

Enter through Burns' current garage and there's immediate evidence of his love of cycling -- two expensive racing bikes, including one custom-made to pay homage to one of his heroes, Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner. Last summer, Burns competed in a few triathlons and last weekend took a 60-mile bike excursion into Wisconsin with four friends.

"Still, I did a race this summer with 55-, 60-year-olds and got crushed," Burns said. "There was this one steep hill, and these guys looked like little mosquitoes in front of me."

Walk into Burns' house, and you're greeted by his two 1-year-old huskies, Zeus and Maia, barking from their very own room behind the kitchen. More than a dozen pictures of the dogs hang on the wall, and the animals have marked their territory by tearing up the cushions of their own couch.

They have the run of a spacious back yard, although Maia proved she can scale the fence two weeks ago. Susan and a panicked Burns eventually found Maia at the Humane Society, so they're now installing an invisible fence.

Zeus and Maia are so strong that Burns often straps on his rollerblades and lets the dogs tow him around his subdivision as if he were a musher in the Iditarod.

In the living room is a gigantic aviary with a stunning, 2-foot blue, yellow and green macaw named Eragon and a very jealous -- and unbelievably loud -- African Grey named Hedwig.

Listen to Burns converse with his pets, and you'd swear he's a mix between Dr. Dolittle and Ace Ventura.

Add the fish, and children of Wild players beg their parents to visit the Burnzie Zoo.

"Instead of going to the petting zoo, we go over to Burnzie's house," Wild teammate Brian Rolston said, laughing. "My kids are already asking when we're going over there again."

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