By Jeremy Lanaway
Head athletic trainer Mike Burnstein may not wear a Canucks jersey with a number on his back, but he's still an invaluable member of the team. On Monday night, as the Canucks battled to a gritty 2-1 win over the then-blazing Dallas Stars, the 36-year-old Hamilton, Ontario, native manned his usual position at the end of the bench and played an unassuming - and yet essential - role in his 1,000th game as a Canuck.
"It's been a real privilege to be able to spend these past eleven years in Vancouver," says Burnstein, who lives with his wife, Nicole, and children, Abbey and Lukas, in South Surrey. "I really enjoy coming to work every day. I love the camaraderie of the players, and I love the work I get to do."
Trevor Linden helps to put the milestone into perspective, as he's the only active player with more Canucks games under his belt than Burnstein, who's currently appearing in his 12th consecutive season with the team. In fact, even Linden's record falls short when the years are counted consecutively.
"It's special. I saw him come into his first game," recalls Linden. "He's a real quality guy. He's very personable and relates well to the players. There's a lot that goes into being a medical trainer in the National Hockey League."
Burnstein represents the frontline and rearguard of defence against player injuries. When a player goes down, he shuffles onto the ice and stabilizes the injury. If the damage is serious, he hands the player off to the team's doctors. During the rearguard phase, he coordinates the long-term therapy and rehab of players who find themselves shelved for extended periods of time.
And that's just in a nutshell.
"You never know what you're going to get when you come to the rink," explains Burnstein, who commutes into the city seven days a week throughout the regular season. "Every day it's something different, you know, different guys to help out - different injuries to take care of." DREAM COME TRUE
Burnstein set his sights on becoming an NHL trainer when most kids his age were dreaming about finding the "magic turtle" in Super Mario Bros. He started out as a stick-boy for his older brother's rep team, and before he knew it, he was helping manage the equipment of the Hamilton Steelhawks in the OHL.
The experiences reinforced Burnstein's desire to become a professional trainer, and upon his graduation from high school, he enrolled in the athletic therapy program at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario. Four year later, he used his newly acquired Bachelor of Science degree, along with the contacts he'd made while completing an academic internship, to land a job as head athletic trainer for the AHL's Hamilton Canucks.
It was 1993, and Burnstein was 22 years old.
He followed Vancouver's affiliate team to New York State, where he spent the 1994-95 season with the Syracuse Crunch. He watched from a distance as Linden and the Canucks made their famous charge for the Stanley Cup. He wondered if he'd ever get a chance to stand on the bench of an NHL team.
His promotion to the big league came a year later, following the passing of legendary Canucks trainer Larry Ashley, who'd succumbed to cancer. Despite the solemnity of the occasion, Burnstein looked toward the future - his future - which was set to unfold among the backdrop of the NHL.
He relocated to the west coast, settled into the rehab clinic of the newly constructed GM Place, and began to prepare for the 1995-96 season, which would be shaped by the leadership of head coach Pat Quinn. It was a frenzied transition period, to say the least, but Burnstein somehow found the time to realize that his childhood dream had come true. BAPTISM BY FIRE
It wasn't long before Burnstein faced his first challenge as the Canucks' head athletic trainer. In fact, "challenge" is an understatement, as the injury involved the team's marquee player, Pavel Bure, who blew out his knee in one of Burnstein's first games in the league.
"It was a full ACL tear, so that was quite an experience, to get thrown into the fire right away," says Burnstein. "It was a bit of an adjustment to have to deal with that, but in retrospect, it was a valuable experience."
Burnstein helped Bure return to the ice in six months, and dealing with the high-profile injury gave him the confidence he needed to survive five subsequent coaching revolutions, not to mention a year-long lockout, without missing a day of work - a rare feat in the world of professional trainers. He worked with Rick Ley, Tom Renney, Mike Keenan, and Marc Crawford before transitioning into the present Alain Vigneault era.
Burnstein's career highlights include assisting Team Canada at the 1987 and 1991 Canada Cup tournaments and serving as the national team's head athletic trainer at the World Championships in 1998 and 1999. He was also chosen to support the Western Conference team in 1998's NHL All-Star game. CONGRATULATIONS
Burnstein's milestone hasn't escaped the notice - or admiration - of his colleagues.
"It's something that he should be very proud of," says T.C. Carling, Director of Media Relations. "A thousand games is an incredible accomplishment."
"It takes a lot of hard work to get to a thousand games," adds Pat O'Neill, the team's head equipment manager, and he certainly knows what he's talking about, as he's nearing the 1,900-game plateau himself. "He's done a very professional job right from the beginning when he started as a young 24-year-old. He's a consummate professional."