Opening night spectacular
Rogers Arena will be buzzing as Alex Burrows and the Canucks open their home schedule against the Edmonton Oilers.
One game into his resurrection, Alex Burrows has the blood out of his mouth. It actually tasted better than last season.
“Seven stitches,” the winger said Friday, showing the sutures required inside his lower lip after the Vancouver Canucks’ season- opener two nights earlier. “I just rinsed my mouth a couple of times and carried on.”
If only it had been that easy a year ago for Burrows when a bloody mouthwash would have been a drastic improvement on the three separate bone fractures — foot, jaw and hand — that ruined his National Hockey League campaign.
Between injuries, Burrows went 35 games without a goal, didn’t score until March 12 and finished the season with only five goals in 49 games.
Things went so badly, there was a report John Tortorella — this was before he was fired as coach — asked management to buy out Burrows’ contract one season into the player’s fouryear, $ 18- million- US deal. Tortorella called Burrows to tell him it wasn’t true, and Burrows and new general manager Jim Benning flatly rejected later media conjecture that the Canucks had asked the 33- yearold from Montreal to waive his no- trade clause.
Scoring in Game 1 on Wednesday when the Canucks beat the Flames 4- 2 in Calgary puts Burrows on pace for 82 goals this season, heading into Vancouver’s home- opener Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers. Burrows also led the Canucks with five hits against the Flames, including a seismic jolt on Calgary defenceman Dennis Wideman.
He finished the game with blood in his mouth after getting hit by the puck in the third period. He did not miss a shift. After last year, he doesn’t dare.
“You always want to score the first one early, especially after what happened last year,” Burrows said after Friday’s practice at Rogers Arena. “I knew I wasn’t going to go through a stretch like last year ever again — knock on wood. I put in the work this summer and I feel good right now and just have to keep going.
“I had a few injuries ( last year) and tough luck around the net and the team was losing — all super disappointing. But you look at what’s going on around the world, people have it way tougher than what I did last year when you look at the big picture.”
Burrows said he simply worked harder in the off- season, doing more skating than he had previously, to come back better. New coach Willie Desjardins has remarked since training camp began how quick Burrows looks, and he was fast to the puck in Calgary.
With his right- wing job on the first line given to free- agent acquisition Radim Vrbata, whose right- handed shot and natural offensive instincts made him a better candidate to play with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Burrows experimented in the pre- season with playing left wing.
After more than four years with the twins, however, Burrows looks much more comfortable on the right side, which Desjardins has discovered. Burrows played there against the Flames with centre Nick Bonino and left wing Chris Higgins, and the second- line trio were almost as cohesive together as the Canucks’ identical twins.
We need a much bigger sample than one game to be definitive, but Burrows sure looks to have plenty of NHL game left in him.
This is the player, remember, who started professional hockey on a tryout in the East Coast League, thought he had struck it rich when he signed for $ 40,000 in the American Hockey League, then clawed his way into the NHL nine years ago and never left.
Someone who does that isn’t going to be complacent or easily discouraged, isn’t going to leave without a titanic fight.
“There’s too many good players and the league is too good to just hope about things — hope you’re going to have a good season or hope you make plays,” Burrows said. “That’s not how it works. You have to put in the work and every shift you go out there, you’ve got to say, ‘ I’m going to go grab it,’ instead of hoping for things.
“I went into the first game knowing I was going to work hard and play hard and bring intensity. I was excited about playing the first game and wanted to play well, and it’s the same way I’m going to approach ( Saturday).
“For numbers, I maybe won’t go back to scoring 35 goals ( like in 2009- 10) unless I play with the twins or start having great chemistry with Nick. But you can contribute every night, even if it’s a blocked shot or a big penalty kill or a screen or making a play on a goal.” Or all of the above. Home- openers make Burrows think of his friend and teammate, Luc Bourdon, who was killed in an off- season motorcycle crash 6 ½ years ago and honoured by the Canucks when they opened the 2008- 09 season against the Calgary Flames.
“That’s the one I really remember,” Burrows said. “The one against the Flames with the tribute to Luc, and his mom and girlfriend were here — that one I’ll never forget.”
Burrows scored twice that night in the 6- 0 win and celebrated by slinging imaginary arrows to the heavens, gifts to his lost friend.
He has sent arrows to Bourdon after other goals, but it has been a while.
“Been a few years,” Burrows said. “I’ve thought about it a couple of times but I’ve got to wait for the right moment.” Like after a big goal? “Yeah, a big goal,” he said. Then he smiled. “So that’s been a while, too.”