Back in the 2005-2006 season, the Vancouver Canucks were lead by a watered down version of the West Coast Express, and had dug themselves quite the hole trying to get into the postseason. They never did, and missed the playoffs for the first time in 5 years, but they looked to have found something quite unique in the process. We all know how important games in March are, especially when trying to solidify a playoff spot, and with some injury problems, the Canucks called up 24 year old Alexandre Burrows, who had been playing in the AHL for the Canucks affiliate, Manitoba Moose. Before playing in Manitoba, Alex was winning ball hockey tournaments in Quebec, and playing in the ECHL for the likes of the Greenville Grrrowl, Columbia Inferno and the Baton Rouge Kingfish.
Dave Nonis, the GM at the time, had liked what he saw from Burrows over in Manitoba. He had piled up 30 points in 33 games in 2005-2006, so Nonis gave the kid a shot with the big club. He played his first NHL game January 2nd, 2006 at home against the St.Louis Blues in a 4-1 loss. On Jan 10th, just a week later, at home against the hated Toronto Maple Leafs, Alex scored his first NHL goal on Leafs goaltender Ed Belfour. You could see glimpses of a star in the making. His play on the ice was aggressive, and you could see the determination, this guy did not want to go back to the minors. In a pivotal game late that season against Los Angeles, Alex Burrows made a believer out of hockey fans on the West Coast, after notching his 1st career NHL hat trick in a huge 7-4 win. As stated earlier, Vancouver went on to miss the playoffs, but did they find a piece that would help them in years to come?
In 2006-2007, Burrows was a mainstay on the Vancouver roster, but with limited ice time. New head coach Alain Vigneault also used Alex on the penalty kill, and he saw a player willing to block shots and put it all out there to get the job done. He, Ryan Kesler, and goaltender Roberto Luongo had propelled the teams penalty kill to number one in the NHL. The offensive production however, wasnt quite there as Burrows struggled, scoring 3 goals and 9 assists in 81 games. That season he played in his first career NHL playoff games and gained some very valuable playoff experience playing into round 2.
In the years that followed, Alex Burrows became a household name amongst Vancouver hockey fans. He began playing in a much bigger role for the team, and became a top line player for the Canucks in the 2008-2009 season. The chemistry he had found with Daniel and Henrik Sedin was instant magic. The amount of highlite reel goals between the three was just fantastic to see as a Canucks fan. Alex had become one of the Canucks more important players, and quite the agitator. Teams across the league began to notice, and so did fans. That season, while on a 9 game funk, Alex Burrows scored one of the more dramatic goals in Canucks history, in a 4-3 home ice win against the Carolina Hurricanes. With the game tied at 3-3 late and with Carolina on the powerplay, Ryan Kesler chipped the puck ahead to an open Alex Burrows who scored on the breakaway shorthanded with under a minute left to end the doom and gloom that had hung around the team for two weeks. That goal turned the tide, and the Vancouver Canucks made a charge up the standings and won the Northwest division crown on the last day of the season. He followed that up by scoring the double overtime winner in St.Louis in round 1 of the playoffs that season as the Canucks completed the 4 game sweep of the Blues.
Alex Burrows became "that" player. A player that opposing teams hated, but someone the home fans admired greatly for his contributions. He also became a team player, and clearly wanted to do anything he could to make the team successful. He went as far as taking a pay-cut when he signed a 4 year extension worth 8 million dollars on February 4th, 2009. We all know he would have received more on the open market, but he saw something special in Vancouver, and that's a situation that's few and far between. The following two seasons in Vancouver saw his line mates Henrik and Daniel Sedin win a few huge awards at the annual NHL Awards. Henrik with the Art Ross in 2010, and Daniel with the Art Ross and Ted Lindsay in 2011. The twins had mentioned a big part of their success had to do with playing alongside Alex. He has now scored over 20 goals in 4 straight seasons, including 2011-2012.
Through his career so far, Burrows has been the part of many controversies. From referees out to get him, to Ron McLean ( a former official) verbally assaulting Alex on Hockey Night in Canada, even to this day. Many fans of other teams started to hate on him cause through their eyes he was the subject of diving and embellishing to get powerplays. Through all this hatred from every corner of the hockey world, Burrows just continued to play hockey.
This past Spring though, at the start of the run to the Stanley Cup finals, he may have just cemented his name in Canucks lore. The Vancouver Canucks, heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup, faced off against the hated and despised Chicago Blackhawks in round 1. The Canucks had built up a 3-0 series lead and looked home and cooled off, only to see the officiating turn towards them, and the Hawks reeling off 3 straight wins to force a deciding Game 7. The city was devastated, and the fans demoralized, at the thought of one of the biggest collapses in pro sports happening to their team, right in their backyard, against a team so hated. This game was literally the biggest game in Canucks history, and it was only round 1. Burrows scored early in the game on a feed from Ryan Kesler to give the Canucks a 1-0 lead. Who else?? Burrows somehow, some way always managed to come through in monster games. That lead stood almost the entire game. Alex was also awarded a penalty shot at the beginning of the 3rd to ice the game, but he was robbed by Crawford. With just under 2 minutes remaining, the Blackhawks were penalized, and Canuck Nation was ready to celebrate, but Jonathon Toews gave Canucks fans a scare they'll never forget, by scoring shorthanded, to tie the game and send it to overtime.
This game already felt like a loss, atleast to me, but alot of Canucks fans. The amount of disbelief and nervousness across the entire province was at an extreme. Overtime had begun, and just a few minutes in, Burrows was called for a penalty, and Canuck Nation was standing on very thin ice. You could just imagine how Alex had felt. He had a chance on a penalty shot to put the game away but couldn't, and here he was, sitting in the penalty box, putting his team shorthanded, with a chance to forever scar Canucks fans. His good friend Roberto Luongo bailed him out by making a massive stop on Patrick Sharp point blank. The penalty was killed, and Alex saw this as an opportunity to finish what he should have earlier. After a dump in by Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis, Hawks defenceman Chris Campoli didn't like what he saw on the boards and decided to lob the puck into centre ice out of his own zone. At this point, everything happened so fast. It was a blur, and you just couldn't believe what you had witnessed. Alex grabbed the lob pass by Campoli out of the air, threw it down on the ice, skated in about a couple strides, and unleashed a slapshot top corner over Crawford to win Game 7, send the defending cup champs home, and send the city into a frenzy. He did it again. Alex Burrows, two goals in Game 7 ,when we needed him the most, delivered. The Canucks moved on all the way to the cup finals, to see Alex score another big overtime goal in Game 2 against the Boston Bruins, and 3 points on the night, he clearly was Mr. Clutch.
Its astounding really, that this kid was so close to quitting hockey, after trying over and over again, to get teams to give him a chance.Today, people proudly wear his jersey and t-shirts all over town. His involvement in charities and community work only solidifies himself as one of the more popular Canucks in history. Tonight, in Nasvhille, Alex will play his 500th NHL game, a truly amazing accomplishment for a guy that wasn't supposed to make it big. You have to hope as a fan, that Alex Burrows never wakes up from this dream.
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