Let me be the first to recall: Back in 2011, as we covered that star-crossed, dive-laden Stanley Cup run of the Vancouver Canucks, I never hid my opinion on Alexandre Burrows, and what was often referred to as “his act.”
“Alex and the Head-Snappers.” What sounds like a good name for a band today became a pseudonym for a Canucks team that also housed Maxim “Fake News” Lapierre, who dove so often he could have played the game in a Speedo.
Those Canucks became perhaps the only Canadian team in a Final that I’ve ever met where it seemed like the rest of Canada wanted them to lose. Burrows and Lapierre had their fingerprints all over that, a duo so annoying and flagrantly fictitious that their shade blotted out such respected players as the Sedin twins and Roberto Luongo.
Burrows was, as we look back seven years later, one of the most conflicting personalities we’ve ever met. Loved by Canucks fans, he was despised by pretty much everyone else.
He was what wrestling people label as “a heel.” A permanent black hat perched atop a head that never stopped thinking about what mainstream hockey people deplored, and devising ways to carry out that exact act in a game.
As a person, I’ll say Burrows is a hell of a guy. Loved talking to him at a morning skate. Full of personality. Had a flare for the dramatic, whether it was Game 7 versus Chicago, or the game-winner he scored on the night the Canucks honoured his departed dear friend Luc Bourdon.
Burrows was suspended again on Wednesday. Ten games for his run-in with Taylor Hall.
Had I been in charge of the department of player safety, I’d have pushed for 15 — just because there had to be at least five games along the way that Burrows should have been suspended for but somehow wriggled off the hook.
The other thought we had? This was a rare Burrows moment where he actually could have hurt someone physically. A master of hurting your feelings, other than leaving the odd dental imprint on someone’s finger, Burrows had never been as physically dangerous as a Matt Cooke or Raffi Torres.
That’s perhaps what made Burrows even more toxic, to fans of any other team. Because when he accidentally on purpose brushed up against Eddie Belfour in his crease during a stoppage — or when he started the scrum, then snapped his head back at the first opportunity, feigning a blow that never happened — there was seldom enough tangible offence to warrant a penalty.
Torres made you wonder why the National Hockey League didn’t put an end to his violent, predatory ways. Burrows? He had you wishing your team’s heavyweight would drop down a few weight classes and pound the bejeebers out of him.
It made him the perfect Canuck, a beloved son to a fan base labelled “The Tinfoil Hats,” instructed by certain misguided local media types that Gary Bettman wanted them to lose and had instructed the referees to make it so. It was just another spin on the old “Us Against the World” motif, and when Burrows became a hate magnet around the rest of the NHL, well, didn’t Canucks fans love him even more?
As a Canuck, Burrows suckered more referees into making bad calls than perhaps any other player in his generation. Then they’d watch the tape, and half-invent the next three calls against Burrows and the Canucks, fulfilling the Tinfoil Hats’ anthem:
“See! The refs do hate us!”
Remember the Stephane Auger incident? Burrows had authored a forgery that fooled Auger into giving Jerred Smithson a charging major and game misconduct one night in Nashville. The NHL later rescinded the game misconduct, and for two months Auger stewed. Then, working a game in Vancouver, Auger called two third-period minors on Burrows, followed by a late unsportsmanlike and game misconduct. This, after following him around the ice in warmups, like the referee in Slap Shot who was told so politely, “I’m listening to the f—ing song!”
An undrafted kid who worked his way up from the ball hockey court, through the East Coast League, the American League, and into a spot next to two of the game’s greats in Daniel and Henrik Sedin — where he had four consecutive seasons of 25-plus goals. How could you not respect that path, and if he was one of yours, not love that player?
But he said some awful, awful things to vulnerable opponents like Patrick O’Sullivan and others.
I will tell you as a reporter who spent a fair deal of time around those Canucks, he is a personable, engaging guy. On the ice, he’d say things that are borderline sick. Off the ice? Can’t think of many I’d want to have beers with ahead of Burrows.
It’s that on-ice quality that causes a skill player like Hall to crank Burrows with a hard, clean check when the opportunity arose the other night in Ottawa. If not for some indiscretion Burrows had carried out on Hall, then for something Burrows was going to do later. Or that he had done over the years to a teammate of Hall’s.
Burrows is like a bank account. When get a chance to make a deposit, you make it.
The bank is closed for 10 games now, and soon to be aged 37, I can’t imagine there are very many more transactions left.
When he is gone, some will cheer. Not me, though.
I’m in the story telling business, and few players in my time gave us more material than Alex “The Heel” Burrows.