There were ovations in warmups and pre-game introductions — and sometimes more than a few boos — followed by a video tribute on the scoreboard.
After getting dealt by Vancouver to the Ottawa Senators at last season’s NHL trade deadline, it will be Burrows’ turn Tuesday when he steps onto the ice at Rogers Arena for the first time as a opponent.
“I love this city, I’ve loved this organization for a long time,” Burrows said after practice Monday at the University of British Columbia. “They gave me my first chance in the league.
“This place is always going to have a special place for me.”
And Burrows is a special player in the eyes of Canucks fans, going from an undrafted free agent playing in the third-tier East Coast Hockey League to a winger on what became one of the most dangerous lines in hockey alongside Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
His grit, lunch-bucket mentality, big goals, memorable playoff performances, and work in the community resonated with people.
“When the schedule came out that was the first thing I looked to — seeing when we were going to play the Canucks,” said Burrows. “It’s nice to be here at this time of year when the weather’s nice.”
The Pincourt, Que., native suited up for 822 regular-season games with the Canucks, posting 193 goals, 191 assists and 1,066 penalty minutes to go along with 34 points (19-15) in 70 playoff contests.
He had four straight seasons of at least 25 goals from 2008-09 to 2011-12, with his best year coming in 2009-10 when he scored 35 times and added 32 assists.
But with Vancouver sinking like a stone last February and finally pivoting into rebuild mode, management approached Burrows about the possibility of a trade to a contender.
“After being around in this league for a long time, I understand the business side of things,” said the 36-year-old. “The team wanted to trend a little bit younger.”
Set to become an unrestricted free agent with a full no-movement clause in his contract, he had to agree to any deal. When the Senators were mentioned as a possible landing spot, it didn’t take Burrows long to make up his mind, especially after Ottawa agreed to sign him to a two-year, US$5-million extension.
“It’s been everything I was hoping for,” Burrows said of the trade. “I felt this team had tremendous potential to do a lot of good things, that their window of opportunity was just opening.
“That’s what I saw last year and that’s what I see right now.”
Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher said Burrows, who was acquired for prospect Jonathan Dahlen, has come as advertised.
“From the outside … he had a disrupting reputation,” said Boucher. “Once you have him on your team it’s the absolute opposite.
“He’s one of the best people you’ll ever meet. He’s an outstanding leader.”
Burrows had six goals and five assists in 20 games with Ottawa at the tail end of last season before adding five assists in 15 playoff outings prior to suffering a lower-body injury in the conference final as the Senators made it to within one game of reaching the Stanley Cup.
“When you come in, you’re not exactly yourself,” said Boucher. “You’re parts of yourself, but those parts were really important for us last year in our push.
“He could be a coach one day. He’s one of those guys. He thinks the game. He knows what’s coming. He’s terrific with the young guys.”
Senators defenceman Mark Borowiecki agreed Burrows has fit in seamlessly with Ottawa, which opened the season with back-to-back home shootout losses before heading out on a road trip that will also see the team visit Edmonton and Calgary.
“He’s been a really calming voice for us,” said Borowiecki. “We had an older team last year numbers-wise, (but) I don’t think we were the most experienced group.
“Alex brings a lot of that experience.”
Burrows isn’t sure what kind of reception he will get after seeing how Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and Roberto Luongo handled their returns, but it’s safe to say there will be a lot of emotion in the building for a player that wore his heart on his sleeve for the franchise for 12 seasons.
“Kes got booed, Kevin got applauded,” Burrows said with a smile. “The fans have been really good with me throughout my years here.
“I’m looking forward to it. I’d like to win, that’s the bottom line.”