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How Alex Burrows became a Canucks legend

by Rob Williams @RobTheHockeyGuy / Freelance writer

Of the 618 players that have suited up for the Vancouver Canucks in their 50-year history, none has a better story than Alex Burrows.

Hated by opponents, beloved by his Canucks teammates and fans, Burrows' rise to prominence is well known.

Undrafted, he worked his way up from ECHL to carve out one of the best careers in Canucks history. It's those humble beginnings that fueled the fire that burned inside of him during his 913-game NHL career.

Burrows had to work for everything he got, so he took nothing for granted. He played hard every night, could be relied on in all situations, and scored some of the biggest goals in franchise history.

That's why Burrows is becoming just the seventh member of the Canucks Ring of Honour Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators.

True underdog story

Burrows didn't just spend time in the ECHL, he toiled there for 130 games before getting a sniff of the AHL.

"He might be the best free agent signing in team history," says Tom Larscheid, the Canucks colour commentator for over 30 years who witnessed the start of Burrows' NHL career.

After a year and a half with the Manitoba Moose, Burrows earned his first NHL call-up to join the Canucks in St. Louis on January 2, 2006.

He was never sent back down to the minors for the rest of his career.

Unparalleled effort

Burrows received just 7:23 of ice time during his first NHL game, but he made sure to make an impact, registering two shots on goal and getting into a fight.

It was indicative of how Burrows' career would progress. Coming from where he did, he wasn't going to get many chances, so he didn't waste them.

"Very few skilled players ever make it from the East Coast League all the way up to the National Hockey League. Burrows accomplished that because of his great determination to succeed," added Larscheid.

Perhaps his experience playing high-level ball hockey helped in that regard. A less glamorous version of the sport, there's no gliding in ball hockey, so you have to be constantly moving to your feet. And that's what Burrows did on the ice -- he had a motor that didn't stop running.

Do anything to win

Other teams hated playing against Burrows.

That's going to happen when you're one of the top agitators in the game.

Burrows gave insight into his role as an agitator on Hockey Night in Canada's After Hours show on October 26, 2008 -- when he played on the team's checking line.

Watch: Youtube Video

"Playing against the top lines every night, I've got to get under their skin," Burrows said at the time. "If they can focus on me, that's a good thing. They're not focusing on scoring goals and making plays. They're thinking about me. If I can be in their face and be hard against those guys, I'm helping the team and that's how we're going to win games."

Less than months after that interview, other teams began having to game-plan against Burrows as a goal-scorer, as he went from the checking line to the scoring line.

His career was just taking off.

The perfect fit with the Sedins

Burrows worked hard and proved that he had skill, but he was also a very smart hockey player.

"He could play any role on the team, he could be an agitator, he could play on a checking line with all the hack-wack-and-smackers, or you could put him on the top line with the Sedins and he could score goals," Larscheid recalls. "He had great versatility, he had one of the highest IQs for hockey of any player I've ever seen."

Put on a line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin for the first time in a game in St. Louis on February 10, 2009, Burrows solved a multi-year problem for the team.

Watch: Youtube Video

It turned out, he was the perfect fit.

"He worked well with everybody," Larscheid explained. "The big thing with the Sedins is that he knew what his role was. His role was to go in on the forecheck, dig the puck out, get it to Henrik and Daniel, and then go to the net. They would find him. He found open ice for the Sedins to make the play. That's why he was so productive offensively."

Burrows scored at least 26 goals in four consecutive seasons from 2008-09 to 2011-12, including a career-high 35 goals in 2009-10 -- many of them assisted by Henrik and Daniel.

Slaying the dragon in the game of his life

Ironically, Burrows' most famous goal was one not scored with either Sedin. Playing on a line with Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond, Alain Vigneault was desperately searching for a winning combination heading into Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011.

Burrows actually scored both Canucks goals that night in a 2-1 overtime triumph over their arch nemesis, but he -- humble as can be -- shifted the focus elsewhere moments after the biggest goal of his life in an on-ice interview with CBC's Scott Oake.

Watch: Youtube Video

Asked by Oake if he had "any idea what that winning goal means to this franchise," Burrows instead focused on his mistake in overtime and the save Roberto Luongo made to keep the team alive.

"I'm just happy that the guys could kill my penalty early in OT," Burrows said. "They did a great job, Lu made a big save. I'm just lucky enough to get a bounce and a shot on net, and luckily it went in."

It's no wonder why his teammates loved him.

"Anytime you went into the Canucks locker room, post-game or morning skate or whatever it might be, he always had a great disposition," Larscheid recalls. "He just loved being around hockey. He worked so hard to get to where he was, didn't take anything for granted, but enjoyed every minute of it."

I think he'll enjoy Tuesday night too.

Video: TRIBUTE | Thank You Alex Burrows for 11 Great Years

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