Burrows bringing energy plus smarts to Canucks
Thursday, 15 November 2007
Is Alexandre Burrows a smarter hockey player than Jaromir Jagr in any way? The idea sounds outrageous. How could a third-year Vancouver Canuck who agitates and brings energy in a third- or fourth-line role compare to a five-time Art Ross Trophy winner? But the reality is that if Burrows doesn’t use his head and play smart, disciplined hockey every night, the 26-year-old left winger could find himself in danger of losing his job, whereas a superstar like Jagr can afford to lose focus for a game here or there.
Burrows, earning just above the NHL minimum at $483,333 US this season, got a stern message from Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault at training camp in September. Vigneault, who previously oversaw Burrows with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, told the media: “His season last year was below what we anticipated. We made that very aware to him at the end of the season. And he’s conscious and aware he needs a very solid training camp if he intends to start with us this year.”
Happily, the 6-1, 190-pound native of Pointe-Claire, Quebec responded the right way. Burrows, who suited up for the ECHL’s Columbus Inferno as recently as 2004-05, has played in all 17 of Vancouver’s games so far. With two goals and four assists, he’s well on his way to career-best numbers after notching just nine points last season. But while Burrows may occasionally enjoy an offensive outburst like the hat trick he scored against Los Angeles on March 27, 2006, he knows his greatest value is as a shot-blocker in his own end and as a committed forechecker in the offensive zone.
HockeyAdventure.com caught up with Burrows in Vancouver’s workout room after a 1-0 shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers at GM Place on November 14.
HockeyAdventure.com: You’re getting opportunities this season as a penalty-killer, and tonight, the team was perfect in that department. What’s the key to making the PK work so well?
Alexandre Burrows: I think on the penalty kill, our coaching staff is doing a good job. Rick Bowness is really taking pride in it and putting a lot of time into it, making sure we know what we’re doing out there, making sure we’re putting our sticks in passing lanes and our bodies in shooting lanes. Obviously, I think Trevor Linden and Willie Mitchell know what they’re talking about on the PK, and that always helps. We just have to keep focused and we’ll be OK on the PK.
HockeyAdventure.com: You’re getting about 13 minutes of ice time a night. How happy are you with that?
Burrows: I’m having a blast right now. For me, I think 13 minutes, or just getting into double digits, is always good. I feel right into the game, and I feel like I make a difference every night. Especially in those one-goal games, there’s got to be someone who’ll step up every night and make a difference. The ice time helps me, and hopefully I’ll be able to help the team.
HockeyAdventure.com: So many of Vancouver’s main D-men are out with injuries right now, like Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa. As a forward, do you find yourself coming back deeper than maybe you normally would?
Burrows: For sure. We’ve got younger guys on the back end right now, and I think we’ve changed our game plan a little bit. We want to help them out and give them good support, so they can make the easy five-foot pass instead of the long stretch pass. Guys like Luc Bourdon and Alex Edler are playing really well for us. We just have to keep helping them and find a way to score goals now.
HockeyAdventure.com: Looking at your stats, one thing that jumps out is that you only have six penalty minutes this season. How does it feel to be a potential Lady Byng candidate?
Burrows: [laughs] No, you know, early in the year, we took a lot of minor penalties, and we talked about it. We want to stay out of the box, and I didn’t really want to get undisciplined or dumb penalties after the whistle. So I think I still want to get under people’s skin, but without taking penalties. That’s the right thing to do.
HockeyAdventure.com: With the abrasive type of game you play, what sort of mental preparation do you do before each game?
Burrows: It’s always the same. I try to visualize as much as possible, and think about what I’m going to do out there: defensively, in the neutral zone, and in the offensive zone. I try to anticipate the other team’s tendencies. I know that I should have a few minutes on the PK every night, so I try to think about the other team’s power play and what kind of players I’ll be facing. If they have a big shot like Dion Phaneuf or Sheldon Souray on the point, for instance, then I have to think about getting in those shooting lanes. I just make sure I’ll be ready for the game.
HockeyAdventure.com: Jarkko Ruutu played a style much like yours for several years with the Canucks. What did you pick up from him when he was here?
Burrows: I remember I played on a line with Jarkko for about my first 15 or 20 games in the NHL, along with Kes [Ryan Kesler], and I had a lot of fun playing with those two guys. They brought a lot of energy, they skated well, and they loved to get in on the forecheck. That’s what Jarkko taught me. He was always a happy guy. He was on the fourth line, but he always had a smile and he always worked hard, and I think guys appreciated him around the room.
HockeyAdventure.com: Luc Bourdon seems to be getting more and more comfortable as an NHLer. What have you been doing to help him make the transition, apart from spotting him on the bench press like you were a few minutes ago?
Burrows: Well, Luc’s not from Quebec like myself, he’s from New Brunswick, but he speaks French, and that’s why we get along really well. You know, Luc has tremendous potential. He’s a young guy with a lot of talent, and it’ll just take a little time for him to become a really strong D-man in this league. Right now, he’s proving he’s able to play at this level. I think that one of the things he learned with Manitoba is that sometimes less is more. He doesn’t try to go coast-to-coast or make those big passes through the middle now. He just makes sure he makes the smart, easy play, and that’s really paying off for him. He’s a strong guy, he plays well one-on-one, and he’s got quick feet.
HockeyAdventure.com: A few fun questions for you. What was the last movie you saw?
Burrows: Probably Saw IV. Me and my girlfriend, we saw a few of the other Saw movies, and it was close to Halloween, so we decided to go see a horror movie. It wasn’t that great, though.
HockeyAdventure.com: What Vancouver restaurants have you visited recently?
HockeyAdventure.com: How about the last time you beat a teammate in an off-ice game?
Burrows: [grins] Hmm, let’s see. I haven’t really played much Xbox lately. I know Kes gave me a beating the other day on The Bigs on the Xbox 360. But at poker, I beat Willie [Mitchell] all the time on the plane. We also have a new game called Schnarples, and I always give Luc and Jannik Hansen a beating. So that’s probably the one where I’m doing the best against my teammates.
HockeyAdventure.com: Looking at the team overall, you guys really took until Christmas last year to find your game. Even with all the injuries, do you get the sense that you’re turning the corner a little bit earlier this year?
Burrows: We have to. We talked about it. I don’t think we’re going to go on a run like we did last year. We won 32 games after Christmas, but those kind of runs are tough to do every year. We need to make sure we play a lot better right now, and just keep working hard. We turned the corner last week by winning those three games, but we can’t be satisfied. We have to keep looking ahead and making sure we win games. The standings are so tight. You win two games and you’re right back in, you lose two and you’re out of the picture. Staying focused and playing hard, we should be all right.