The comments caught many off guard because National Hockey League coaches aren’t usually so forthcoming with their public comments about individual players. But in this case, Vigneault wasn’t saying anything about Burrows that he hadn’t already told the player himself.
And whether it was the kick-in the butt from the coach or just the realization that he had to get better, Burrows has been one of the most-consistent Canucks through a topsy-turvy first 16 games of the season posting two goals and four assists in limited ice time and leading the hockey club with a +5 rating.
“I didn’t really know anything about what he (Vigneault) said in training camp. I heard about it afterward. I know last year, at my year end meeting, he told me straight-up that honestly I had to be better if I wanted to be back otherwise I’d be in Manitoba. That’s what you like as a player, you want to know what’s going on if it’s good or if it’s bad, and I knew I had to work hard this summer to gain some weight and put on a little bit of muscle,” says the likeable Burrows, who admits he couldn’t argue with much the coach had to say last May.
“I would have said exactly the same thing. He told me I was good on the PK, that I did a good job there, but I had to give more if I wanted to be a solid NHL player. If I wanted to have a long career, I had to do more than just kill penalties, I had to play five on five and be reliable defensively and chip in offensively once in a while. I think so far this year it’s going well, but it’s only 16 games in – only one fifth of the season – but it’s a long year, and if I can stay injury free and feeling good about my game, I think I can have a good run.”
In the past few games, Burrows has played on a line with Byron Ritchie and Trevor Linden and for the first time all year that combination has provided the Canucks with some fourth-line scoring.
Last Thursday in Calgary, Ritchie and Burrows scored goals 16 seconds apart giving the Canucks what appeared to be insurance at the time as they extended the team’s lead to 3-0. As it turned out, Burrows’ goal stood up as the winner. A night later, at home against Colorado, that fourth-line trio created a couple of quality scoring chances and got GM Place jumping with a second-period shift that sparked subsequent shifts from each of the Canucks other lines.
“Points-wise, I think it (six points in 16 games) is a bonus for me. I don’t think anyone expects me to get 50 goals or anything like that. But confidence-wise, it always helps to be able to put some points on the board and help the team win games."
"Right now, I’ve been getting a few bounces here and there. I just have to keep working hard and hopefully it will continue,” says Burrows. “Both games that I scored in (key divisional games in Edmonton and in Calgary), we won both games.”
And, as it turned out, both of Burrows’ goals so far this season have turned out to be game winners. Last year, while struggling to find his game, Burrows managed just three goals (he didn’t get his first until January 2nd) and nine points, so he’s off to a considerably better start in this, his third season in the NHL. And at +5, he’s miles ahead of last season when he finished the year -7. Perhaps best of all for Burrows, his play has caught the attention of the man who matters most.
“I think he’s been very, very good since the beginning of the year. Alex knew from our exit meetings last year that he needed to play better and be more consistent and contribute also a little bit offensively,” says Vigneault. “His play has been solid, he understands his role on this team, he’s a very good penalty killer and he needs to continue to do those things for us on a consistent basis.”
And excited by his start to the season, Burrows just wants the opportunity to keep providing the little things to the Canucks to help them extend their current three game win streak.
“Since the beginning of the year I’ve been playing a lot more minutes. I had a chance to play on a line for a few games with Cookie and Kes and we played well and that helps your confidence playing with good players and guys you’re comfortable with,” he says. “Ever since those games, I’ve been feeling pretty good even though I’m back on the fourth line, I still feel good out there and I’m still playing quite a few minutes and the coaching staff is showing some confidence in me. And I’m just happy to be part of a little winning streak right now and hopefully it’s going to keep going.”
If it does, chances are pretty good that Alex Burrows will like the tone of his next meeting with the coach a whole lot more than he did last spring.