When most people hear the name Brent Burns, they likely think of the roar of laughter that came with this season’s training camp and what became well known as The Evolution of Brent Burns. I suppose when a 6’5”, 225 pound defenseman (sometimes forward) turns up at the San Jose Sharks training camp looking more Paul Bunyan than Blades of Steel, it’s hard not to notice. And you have to admit, it was going to be difficult after a four-month long lockout for punch-drunk hockey fans not to find something so easy to poke fun at.
Given his reputation as someone who spends a considerable amount of his time caring for others, his rough around the edges look didn’t seem too surprising. Who has time to worry about themselves when they’re busy living life and making other people priority? His ear-to-ear smile with the gap from a long-ago misplaced front tooth, the tattoos, the toques that match his suits, that’s just him. The beard and out of control mop of hair, well, alright… one had to wonder just what in the world he’d spent the lockout doing.
I’m no expert, but I’d like to believe he’d been having a ball with his family and looking after the folks and all the living things he’s made a part of his life. I’d really like to think that meant spending his extra time tending to all the interesting creatures – birds, cats, lizards, fish, you name it – in the animal sanctuary of a home he’s created for them which is lovingly referred to as the Burnzie Zoo.
When I say “animal sanctuary” you might think he’s set up a facility for them to live, a special space to tend to animals, and yes, he’s done that. But as was revealed on an episode of Inside Hockey with Elliotte Friedman on Hockey Night In Canada early in 2008, it was Burns’ own home that he’s welcomed them into.
The idea of a hockey player doing so might seem a bit farfetched, but the more you get to know about Burns, the more you realize how well-read he is, how wrapped up in things he becomes once he finds a real interest in them, and the more you understand why he’s willing to open up his home to what seems like every living thing in the wild kingdom.
Burns has everything from 40 snakes in his reptile room to his favourite chameleon on stand-by in the freezer as it waits for its trip to the taxidermist. He thaws out rats in his kitchen sink, dumps buckets full of fish into his 280-gallon saltwater aquarium to feed his mini-shark, and has given his dogs their own room and furniture to destroy.
When playing in Minnesota, his teammates’ kids couldn’t wait to go and visit his house.
“Instead of going to the petting zoo, we go over to Burnzie’s house,” [then] Wild teammate Brian Rolston said, laughing. “My kids are already asking when we’re going over there again.”
Said Burns, “Ryder and Brody [Rolston's 5- and 4-year-olds] will lay on the bed and watch the fish for hours.” (startribune.com)
Opening his home and heart is something that Burns learned at an early age. Growing up in Barrie, Ontario, Burns’ household was a tight knit unit, and to this day family and honour are incredibly important to him. His grandfather Patrick lived with his family for 23 years and the bond that formed between Brent and his grandfather was a very special one.
Patrick was an artilleryman in the second World War and Brent wanted to hear as many stories as he could from his grandfather about his experiences, though now says:
“I wish I was a little bit older, a little more mature when [Patrick] was around,” admits Burns, who lost his grandfather in 1998. “I would have asked him more questions.” (wild.nhl.com)
Referring to it as being a “special time” between the two of them, it is no surprise Patrick left such a lasting impression on him. Burns and his younger brother Brad wanted to remember as much as they could and in tribute got:
“identical tattoos on their left arms [which feature]… a cross with a Canadian military helmet on top and the zodiac sign for Pisces in the middle. In the background is a Bofor artillery gun over the hills of Sicily. Underneath reads, “Patrick Joseph Burns, 1911-1998.” (startribune.com)
Though his grandfather passed away in 1998, Burns continues to honour him as well as his great-grandfather who served and died in the first World War. While playing with the Minnesota Wild he started by donating a box to military families, dubbing it Burnzie’s Battalion. He also became involved with Defending the Blue Line, a charity that raises funds and donates equipment to help military families get and keep military families involved in hockey, whether it be going to games or playing the game. Given the cost of playing the game, this assistance is one thing that can make or break a child’s dream in playing the game and making it to the big league and everyone deserves that chance.
Burns also feels he gets an incredible amount out of what he does in his work with the military personnel and their families.
“The best thing about this relationship is they’re not as familiar with some of the little things we do in our life, and they get an insight into what we do,” he explained. “And I’m not really familiar with all that they do every day, so it works both ways. They get excited to hear things about hockey, and I get excited to hear about what they go through and what they get to do.” (wild.nhl.com)
Burns has continued this work since being traded to San Jose in 2011, and has also collaborated with Gongshow Gear and designed a signature line of Burnzie’s Battalion clothing in order to raise funds for Defending the Blue Line. If you follow Brent on Twitter (@Burnzie88) you’ll also find that although he doesn’t tweet much, what he does tweet often has to do with supporting or honouring the military.
It’s no doubt that all Burns does for others and his values will wind up rubbing off on his and his wife Susan’s three year old daughter Peyton Gabriann, and almost two year old son Jagger Stephen Patrick. It’s clear that he loves his kids and has an awesome time having fun with them. It’s also without question that he will pass down his grandfather Patrick’s stories and share his own experiences with them so they learn as much as they can in order to have as many opportunities as he has had in his own life.
Wait! Have I mentioned that in the midst of all this Burns also plays hockey for the San Jose Sharks? And that he played for Team Canada as a junior and on the men’s national team? And that his dad took him to get his first tattoo at age 11? And that his library ranges from Harry Potter to an extensive collection of books on the second World War? His mom went into labour with him in a hockey rink, dontcha know?
And he loves having fun with his teammates.
So now when people get all giggly about The Evolution of Brent Burns, you just might think “Hey, maybe he’s just a happy-go-lucky kinda guy with a smile as big as the moon who isn’t too focused on himself because he’s so busy caring for everyone and everything else, eh?” And then you can laugh it up, fuzzball.