Book excerpt: Brian Burke on Lou Lamoriello’s rules

Lou Lamoriello, then general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, attends a press conference in Toronto on Sept. 22, 2016. (Chris Young/CP)

Excerpted from Burke’s Law: A Life in Hockey by Brian Burke with Stephen Brunt. Copyright © 2020 Brian Burke. Published by Viking Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

BY THE TIME Lou Lamoriello came to our house to meet with my parents, I was already pretty sold on him and on Providence.

My oldest brother, Bill, went to Stanford and played freshman football until he had to quit with a knee injury. My older sister, Ellen, went to Wellesley. My brother John went to Dartmouth, where he was a varsity wrestler. If I went to Providence, I would be the first kid in my family to go to a non–Ivy League school. But my parents were supportive. They told me not to worry about where my older brothers and sister went, and to find a school that fit me.

Lou’s visit cinched the deal. He came to the house and didn’t really talk to me at all. Everything was directed at my parents. He told them which courses I would take, and told them that all his players graduated. There was no promise of a scholarship right away. I’d be playing as a walk-on as a freshman. But even without that, Lou did a great job of selling his program.

When he left, my dad looked at me and said, “You’re going to Providence.”

That was fine by me. And those four years at PC turned out to be the most important of my life.

I have known Lou Lamoriello for 40 years. I played for him at Providence College, I worked for him at his hockey school, I competed against him as a rival NHL general manager and I dealt with him when I was handling player discipline at the league’s head office. No one has been more influential in my professional life. I owe him a lot. He got me through four years of college and got me a scholarship to pay for my education. He’s the only reason I went to law school. I have learned so much from him.

All in all, I ought to know Lou better than just about anyone outside of his immediate family. But the fact is, while I like him and respect him immensely, I don’t really know him. If someone asked me if I was close to Lou the person, my answer would have to be no. He’s as much of an enigma to me as he is to everyone else.

He’s a very private guy, and that’s never going to change. He’s a dedicated father and grandfather. His kids are his whole life outside of hockey. But aside from family, he doesn’t really have a personal life. He golfs a little bit now—at least so I hear—but otherwise he is either at the rink or at home. Nothing in between.

When you were around Lou, just when you started to think things were getting a little more personal and intimate—and even those moments were few and far between—the curtain would always come down.

When I was a freshman at Providence, Lou invited me, along with Ron Wilson and another freshman, over to his house for dinner, which was a really nice gesture. His wife made homemade pizza, and it was great. But the minute we finished eating, Lou said, “Okay, you guys get in the car and I’ll drive you back to the dorm. You’ve got studying to do.” No lingering, no socializing—get fed and get out.

Years later, when I was living in Boston, Lou asked me to be part of the radio broadcasts of Providence College games. It was really inconvenient to make the trip there and back, but I did it because Lou wanted me to do it. One night, he asked if I could give him a ride to Boston after the game. I actually lived south of the city, so taking him downtown meant driving 20 miles out of my way and back, but I said, “Sure, I’ll give you a ride, but you have to promise to stay awake and talk.”

As soon as we hit the highway, he was out like a light, snoring away in the passenger seat. He slept the whole way until we got to his hotel. I’m still not sure if that was because he was really tired, or because he just wanted to avoid conversation.

Lou’s rules are Lou’s rules, no matter who you are and no matter how long you’ve known him. I called him before the beginning of the season in 2018 and told him I was moving over to work for Rogers Sportsnet—this was soon after he took the job running the New York Islanders.

We chatted a bit, some small talk about our families, and then he said, “Okay, see you later.”

“Don’t you want to talk about your team?” I asked him.

“No,” he said. “I don’t talk to the media.”

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