By Stephanie Maniago JUNIOR RIDES
The long and winding road - words made famous by the Beatles but perhaps never exemplified better than by Alex Burrows and his travels en route to the National Hockey League. Before the days of chartered planes and team hotels, Burrows did not exactly travel in the most glamorous fashion; buses were used for transport and, on some trips, also acted as the team hotel. To say the least, the travel budgets in the Quebec Junior League and the East Coast League were not exactly synonymous with those of the NHL.
When prompted to talk about the excursions in the QMJHL, a sense of relief was detected on Burrows' face, knowing that the 24 hour bus rides from Shawinigan to Cape Breton were in his past and would stay that way. While many of these long trips were simply spent listening to music or playing cards, Alex expressed some productive benefits to the extensive and sometimes treacherous travels. "The long trips were great for bonding; they really brought us closer as a team," reminisces Burrows. "The rides were also really great because I was in high school at the time and it allowed me a lot of time to do homework and my readings so I could keep up with school." After two seasons with Shawinigan, the bus rides to the Maritimes and around the province of Quebec would come to an end, but his travels would not. TOUGH RIDES
At the age of 21, Burrows found himself in Greenville, playing for the Grrrowl of the ECHL. It was an experience quite contrary to that of the QMJHL. Fewer fans found their way into the stands and the knowledge and passion for hockey was definitely not at the same level as it had been in Quebec. Geographically and culturally, the two areas could not have been more different. But there was one common thread that linked the Grrowl and the Cataractes together: transportation.
While playing in the ECHL, Burrows' team could easily play three games in three nights. The need to travel from one city to another to make it in time for puck drop meant no stops for rest. "We traveled on a sleeper bus in the ECHL, so there were little beds," Burrows says in his optimistic nature, "but with 20 to 25 guys on the bus it could get pretty tight." The close quarters made for some memorable trips.
"One night we were playing in Texas and the next day we were playing in the afternoon in Virginia," remembers Burrows of one road trip. "We were up all night and didn't have a very good sleep or meal. We ended up stopping at some little waffle house and had a pretty greasy meal." Burrows readily admits, but never complains of the past, that the NHL lifestyle was quite easy to adapt to after that trip; when on the road now he always has a spot to have a relaxing sleep and a good meal. THE BIG RIDE
After five grinding years of travel, it was time for Alex to take his spot on an NHL roster. In story book fashion, Burrows scored his first NHL goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 10, 2006, sweet justice for the Montreal-native who grew up cheering on the Canadiens. Burrows would also enter into the history books after scoring a hat trick against Los Angeles on March 27, 2006, a feat previously accomplished by five rookies in franchise history. He had most certainly paid his dues and was beginning to see success.
Now, instead of Burrows taking those long drives, it is his family and friends who have taken to the road to support the young Vancouver Canuck. Last season, when the Canucks squared off against the Devils in New Jersey, 18 of his friends made their way to the game all the way from Quebec.
With a number of players and a Head Coach from the province of Quebec, it would be a fair assessment to say there'll be a strong Canucks contingent in the crowd when Vancouver travels to Montreal on January 16. "I'm really looking forward to it," Burrows says of the Canucks trip to Montreal this season. "I know one of my buddies bought 250 tickets the day they went on sale."
While Burrows knows he will have a lot of support at the Bell Centre, his team may not receive that same backing. When pressed whether his friends and family would be donning the Canucks or Habs jersey, Burrows admitted, "I have a feeling they'll be cheering on Montreal but will want me to score one or two goals." ENJOYING THE RIDE
After traveling to each of the ten Canadian provinces and a good portion of the United States, the obvious question had to be asked of Burrows: any interest in becoming a travel agent? A boisterous laugh lets out and he quickly responds with a polite 'no'. "Right now my focus is playing hockey," says Burrows. "I'm really not sure what I will be doing after my playing days are over, but I have a feeling that it will somehow involve hockey, whether it be an agent, coach or whatever." An unmistakable love for the game is ever present in Burrows, whose infectious personality warms all who surround him.
Burrows has come a long way, both figuratively and literally. His appreciation for the experiences in the NHL always evident. While his travels have been long, his unbridled enthusiasm for the game has allowed him to focus on the most important thing: playing hockey. With clear destinations mapped out, Alex eagerly anticipates his next series of NHL adventures.