Teammates loved him, opponents hated him. That was Alex Burrows‘ brand of hockey — one he played for 13 seasons before calling it a career on Friday.
Defenceman Dan Hamhuis experienced both perspectives, and discussed his beloved teammate of six years (and not-so-beloved opponent of eight) during an appearance on Sportsnet 650’s The Program on Friday.
“He was a tremendous teammate, he was a bugger to play against. That kind of explains it,” Hamhuis, currently an unrestricted free agent, said. “He’s a guy that, everybody around the league that doesn’t play with him hates him, and every guy that plays with him loves him. And that really sums him up. There’s a lot of guys out there like that in the league and he’s certainly one of them. I’m glad that I had the chance to be a teammate of his.”
Hamhuis, who spent the first six years of his career in Nashville, admitted he wasn’t sure what he was getting himself into when he joined the Canucks in 2010.
“He was one of a few guys I thought I might have issues with in Vancouver when I signed there,” Hamhuis said with a laugh. “I think he was actually my last fight I’d had — he and I fought in Nashville my last year there and then sure enough we end up being teammates in the fall so we had a good chuckle out of that.
“It’s just the type of game he plays,” Hamhuis continued. “That’s why he made it the way he did, through the [ECHL] and AHL and up to the NHL, because he plays really close to that line and sometimes over the line. But coaches like that, players that play against him hate it. It inspires teammates, the passion he brings and his desire to win, and that’s him and that’s why I think he’s had such a great 13-year NHL career.”
Burrows took the long road to the pros, climbing up the ranks in the ECHL and AHL for five seasons after going undrafted before making the jump to the Canucks in 2005-06. He finished his career with 205 goals, 204 assists and 409 points in 913 career NHL regular season games — all but 91 spent with the Canucks. The gritty winger also posted 1,134 penalty minutes — not to mention, a few calls from the NHL’s Player Safety Department.
Now retired, he’ll start the 2018-19 season as an assistant coach with the Laval Rocket, AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. Hamhuis said he wasn’t surprised to see the longtime NHLer make the transition to coaching.
“You want people like that in your organization, so that’s a great win for that team to have him on board,” he said. “He’s a smart player. He played with the Sedins for so many years, and they play high-I.Q. hockey, and he had to figure out how to do that. I mean, they’re easy to play with in a way but they also play a very smart game and it takes a smart player to be able to play with them and be successful and [Burrows] certainly did that.
“He’s a tremendous people-person and that’s why he was always so well-liked in the dressing room,” Hamhuis added. “So coaching seems like such a natural fit for him.”
As Burrows leaves the NHL rink, his gritty playing style could be making a return to the Canucks’ lineup — not from Burrows himself, of course, but from Antoine Roussel, who signed a four-year, $12-million deal with Vancouver on July 1. Hamhuis, who suited up alongside the forward in Dallas for the past two seasons, offered up his scouting report on the Canucks’ new winger, who he says is “very similar” to Burrows.
“He’s going to be a guy that’s going to be loved by the fans,” Hamhuis said. “He was loved by the fans in Dallas, he was loved by the guys in the dressing room.”
Like Burrows, Roussel went undrafted before jumping around to a few different AHL clubs and ultimately landing in Dallas as a free agent in 2012.
“He’s a lot like [Burrows],” Hamhuis continued. “His passion is what’s gotten him here and you see it every second of every time he steps on the ice and even when he’s not on the ice, you see it. You see it in practice, he’s a driven guy, he’ll go through the wall for his team and he’s the type of guy that you want and I think the Canucks will be very happy to have him in their lineup.”
Unlike his former Stars teammate, Hamhuis is still on the open market after hitting unrestricted free agency. He said he’s “got a few irons in the fire” and is feeling confident after a strong season in Dallas — one he believes was one of the best of his career.
“Unfortunately, things didn’t work out with Dallas there,” said Hamhuis, who posted 21 points while averaging over 20 minutes per game in 2017-18. “We really enjoyed our time and wanted to be back but they’re kind of going in a little bit of a different direction. They kind of wanted to keep as much money around as they could to make runs at [John] Tavares and [Erik] Karlsson, but maybe that window’s not closed either.”