A Passion That Burns Deep - The Brent Burns Story

Heroes get remembered but legends never die. The story of how one man can redefine a franchise, grow a love for hockey and create a lasting legacy.
by Che Guevara | January 18, 2024, 7:35 PM ET

This story like many other before it starts with a choice, a moment in time where the path taken will critically affect the outcome. In this case it was not just the outcome of one player or one moment in time but the entire direction of a franchise, a city, and the league. It is also a story of how one GM found a new love for the game of hockey itself.

This story is about one man, Brent Burns, and how he changed everything.

It was a dark night in October 2015, the league was in the middle of Free Agent Frenzy. GM Prozeller was conflicted on what this team’s identity should be. Sure they had a stockpile of young talented forwards but the team needed a guiding light, someone to look to who “plays the game the right way” and isn’t afraid to take the team to the next level. The conversation in the Revolution GM’s head probably went something like this:

Let me tell you something, kid. Everybody gets one chance to do something great. Most people never take the chance, either 'cause they're too scared...or they don't recognize it when it spits on their shoes. This is your big chance, and you shouldn't let it go by. Remember when you drafted the next hockey phenom the other day? Someone's telling you something, kid. If I was you, I'd listen.

 

Yeah. But what?

 

You're the one with the rubber legs. Figure it out. Remember, kid, there's heroes and there's legends. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. Follow your heart, kid, and you'll never go wrong.

 

Living on the east coast GM Prozeller never had much exposure to the west coast teams which is where Brent Burns played the first six years of his career. After being drafted by the now defunct Les Dragons de Montréal, Burns played in the Vancouver Island Norsemen GHA affiliate and sprinkled in a couple games with the big squad before moving on to the, also now defunct, Winnipeg Jets. Burns began to excel and show why he was a special player in Winnipeg, putting up 50pt and 45pt seasons at 23 years old is a nice achievement but nothing out of the ordinary for a player drafted in the 1st round. But back then Burns was still finding his game, at 6’5” and playing like a bull in a china shop, most teams saw him as a power forward and he was constantly transitioning between forward and defense for those early years. In fact it wasn’t until his time in Havana that he truly locked in on defense, and consequently began to have the most productive years in his career. Following his time in Winnipeg, Burns was part of a massive 7 player trade which saw him move out to Amsterdam (another now defunct franchise). Burns started to find his game with the Admirals topping out a 70 point season in 2012-13, and never really looked back.

This brings us to that fateful day, when Revolution GM decided to follow his heart (and the overwhelming suggestions of his scouting team) and made a monster (at the time) offer to free agent defenseman Brent Burns, starting what was unknowingly a love affair with a player they hardly knew. The 2015-16 season Burns joined the Havana Revolution and unbeknownst to him or the organization it would be the best thing to happen to both parties.

Revolution GM and fans admittedly knew very little about the hulking Brent Burns when he showed up on the sunny shores of Havana, “We hadn’t really seen a lot of his play directly, being on the west coast of Canada and then over in Europe it wasn’t conducive.” remarked GM Prozeller. However all of that quickly changed when he came to Havana, “I took the scouts word he was the player we needed, but as soon as he started playing for us here, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He is just the most interesting player, one of a kind both on the ice and in the locker room and then don’t get me started about his interests.”

All the while Burns really took hold of the young team in Havana and helped lead the squad as a mentor on how to perform on the ice and the commitment to winning it takes in all areas. Comments from some of the players in Havana have attested to this “His mentality, is just like a player coming into the league, he doesn’t act like a veteran that ‘knows it all’ he is asking questions, gathering perspectives, always trying to be better and improve his game.” commended a former teammate. “He’s a tremendous leader, his work ethic for a 37 year old is inspiring. I mean this year he finished 2nd in the team physical condition testing, he’s an absolute machine. He keeps note books with every workout he’s ever done in it, constantly comparing and trying to one up himself.” added another teammate.

The commitment to off ice leadership, and training resulted in on ice success. Burns went on to have his best seasons with the Revolution finishing Top 5 in defensive scoring 6 times including years when he missed 20+ games to injury! He hovered at 1pt/gm pace for 4 of those years producing over 80 points twice. Culminating in his winning of the Bobby Orr trophy for best defenseman in 2017-18 and the same year winning the Mario Lemieux award for most assists beating all forwards that year with 64 assists. However, he has not slowed down, just last year Burns was operating at a 1.14pts/gm pace before succumbing to a pair of ankle injuries. Returning from injuries in the playoffs he picked up right where he left off and put up 27pts in 24 games to help the Revolution secure their first Continental Cup.

The Havana organization really built trust in Burns and rewarded his commitment, leadership and attitude with the captaincy in 2021. This was a move supported by previous captain Tyler Seguin and a recognition of the true team leader since he arrived. “Burns is just one of those guys people naturally navigate to” added Seguin, “He is just so odd and interesting, he goes all in on everything he tries, and his knowledge is boundess, it’s quite amazing actually. He is just the greatest guy to talk to and he can relate to everyone.” According to teammates Burns is like the Dos Equis man, the most interesting man in the room. Whether it be his massive Texas ranch, his reptile collection, wine, bourbon, paintball, cycling, coffee, guitars, surfing, hiking, or smoking fresh caught game meat, he’s just an endless adventure. “You have to love him as a teammate because you can't stop laughing with some of the stuff he knows. He's always impressed me on how he's read so much. I think that's how he became so well-rounded” remarked a current teammate. With another adding “He’s a fun guy to go to dinner with. He just can talk about anything. He’s not short-lived with any of these things either. He sticks with them and kind of continues those passions that he picks up along the way. Just a bright, thoughtful guy.”

"We brought him here for hockey reasons, and we’ve kept him here for literally everything else” confessed GM Prozeller. “Although that’s not to say his hockey isn’t first class! There’s nothing more daunting to play against than a 6’5” mammoth with a beard that’s older than time.” Coach Clark added to that sentiment “When he’s on the ice, he’s focused and driven and competitive, but then you can see him come off and flash his toothless smile about how he’s outscoring McDavid tonight, or some other quick quip.”

Burns just isn’t like any other player in this league, this is something GM Prozeller quickly noticed upon bringing him into the franchise. “I just couldn’t stop watching him, his style of play, his attitude, the ways he helps those around him become better players. But nothing compares to his backpack.” suggested Prozeller “We may have kept him around just to continue to see what else he could pull out of that thing!!” The total weight of said backpack varies based on which teammate you ask but it’s somewhere from 30lbs to 200lbs and at any one time can contain things from essential oils to knives to bags of custom coffee or even a rolling pin. But there was always one staple, his blender. Used for pre/post game recovery shakes but also known for late night coffee blends. “It was like if you have ever seen Mary Poppins, where she starts pulling out lights and mirrors and $^*&, you just never knew what he was going to bring out next! One time he had a full axe! That was fun at security” added one current teammate.

It was these special moments that just made Brent Burns too likable of a person to ever let go. “Once we saw how special he was on and off the ice. I fell in love with hockey again, he made it so much fun to watch him play. It wasn’t about winning or losing anymore, I mean obviously we had an interest in winning. But during those years where not everything was going right, or when we would lose in round one of the playoffs, it was those times that Burns’ personality, approach to leadership and commitment to the game that made hockey fun. He just has a way about him that draws you in, and he has done that for myself, for the players and coaches on this team, and the entire Cuban community. It has been a mutual embrace and we are all for the better of it!” said a reflective GM Prozeller. “He will retire in green, red and gold”

Sure this likely hasn’t been your typical story of how dominant of a player Brent Burns has been filled with quotes from jealous GM’s like “Typical Havana, wanting more attention. Like oh wow, Brent Burns, one of the best defensemen in the league for a real long time. There’s a quote for you, smoke that”. Or GM’s admiring his tenure atop the league such as “a mainstay on a list of the leagues elite defensemen” or “No disrespect to the other Havana stars but Burns was the one we really had to play around. Which is hard because he’s out there for half the game. An absolute beast of a player, utterly unique in our game.” But the praise doesn’t stop there, with more GM’s piling on his greatness Brent Burns is perhaps the single most impactful free agent signing in league history. While we know the Revolution for their big guns up front, Burns leads the charge from the defensive zone. Without his reliable elite level play it is highly unlikely Havana would have their championship.” And “Burns is the kind of guy you want on your backend. High compete guy, leader, skilled, all star and league leading rearguard in points. Can’t forget his playoff performances either. What a storied career and it’s not even over yet.” But instead a look at the player himself and a focus on his achievements and the type of person he is, along with what he means to his adopted home of Havana and to all the players he has played alongside his 20 year career in the SICHL.

On December 29th 2023, Brent Burns amassed his 871st point becoming the all time league leader in scoring for defensemen. Cementing his legacy in the history books as one of the greatest defensemen to ever play in the SICHL. This is a momentous achievement given the other names atop the list such as Sergei Gonchar, Zdeno Chara, Chris Pronger, Nicklas Lidstrom. Surely there will be others that come in the years ahead and this total may one day be surpassed, however this statistical achievement just provides an opportunity to shed light and celebrate the numerous characteristics of Brent Burns that makes him such a unique player. One worthy of not just the title of hero to those in Havana for all he has done to help the organization, but instead Burns has earned legendary status, for all he has brought to the league, the numerous players lives he has changed, record books he has re-written and leadership style he has imparted. May his legend never die.

 

"A great revolution in just one single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a society and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of humankind." ~ Daisaku Ikeda

¡Viva La Revolucion!

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