Sean Burke loves his job.
After all, the 40-year-old net minder has been doing it professionally for over 18 years.
In fact, Burke was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the second round (24th overall) in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, the same year that two
of his teammates, Patrick O'Sullivan and Konstantin Pushkarev and two years before Anze Kopitar
, were even born
"You know what, I will be playing when I am 50," Burke said. "I don't know that it will be in the NHL. It will probably be in some men's league as a forward. I don't know how I am going to go out."
Burke is one of just six players over 40 years of age, joining the Red Wings' Chris Chelios (45) and Dominik Hasek (42), the Panthers' Ed Belfour (41) and Gary Roberts (40) and the Thrashers' Scott Mellanby (40).
That makes him practically a dinosaur on this young Kings team in which the top-three scorers, Alexander Frolov, Michael Cammalleri and Kopitar are all 25 or younger.
"When you are an older player, you realize that the younger guys are going to watch and try and see how you prepare and see what you do, day in and day out. As a player the biggest thing you can do is lead by example. Your day-to-day preparation is the most important thing."
The proof is in the pudding. Since joining the Kings off of waivers from Tampa Bay on Jan. 18, Burke has allowed three goals or less in seven of his nine appearances this season, posting a 3-3-1 mark with a 2.16 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. Over his last five games, Burke is on a 2-1-2 stretch, with a 1.57 GAA and .947 SV%, which included a 40-save shutout at Florida on Feb. 3
The veteran netminder would rank first in save-percentage (.932) and third in goals-against-average (2.16) in the NHL if he had the minimum requirement for games played (19).
Burke's presence in net has led directly to a much-improved penalty kill for the Kings, who have allowed just three power play goals to the opposition in his nine games played this season. The Kings have a penalty kill rate of 91.4 percent (32 for 35 on the penalty kill) in Burke's nine games compared to an overall penalty kill rate of 78.5 (28th in the NHL) this season.
"I have always looked at the position of goaltending as having an opportunity to be consistent and offer a chance for your team to win every night," he said. "There are going to be those times when a goalie will have to try and steal a game or come up with a brilliant night to help his team win.
"That is the position where you want to know that you can rely on that guy back there being consistent for you."
A position Burke didn't think he be in again again. After signing with the Lightning on Aug. 9, 2005 to replace departed backstop Nikolai Khabibulin, Burke had an injury riddled 2005-06 campaign, finishing with a 14-10-4 mark and a 2.80 GAA. During the off season, Tampa Bay management decided to go in a different direction, trading for Columbus' Marc Denis and signing Johan Holmqvist to man the Lightning net.
That forced Burke down to the team's AHL affiliate in Springfield.
"When I was in Springfield, for the most part, I thought that would be it, and I did not see a way out of there with the salary cap. I knew it was going to take something extraordinary like an injury or something for me to get an opportunity.
"Because I have enjoyed the game so much, that no matter the situation, I would just continue to work hard day to day and good things tend to happen from there."
A part of that hard work has been yoga, which Burke got into eight years ago while playing for the Florida Panthers.
"I find I can incorporate many of the stretches into my pre-game routine and take a modified version of what I would do in the summer time and put it in there. For me I don't know if yoga has prolonged my career and I don't know that it has contributed directly to my play on the ice, but it has kept me more focused when I am stretching and preparing for the game.
"It takes me to a place where I can focus solely on the game."
Burke is no stranger to success. He is a three-time NHL All-Star (2002, 2001, 1989) and was the first rookie goaltender to play in the NHL's All-Star Game, representing New Jersey in '89. He also was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy (NHL's outstanding goaltender) and the Lester B. Pearson Award (NHL's outstanding player as voted by the players) in 2002 and he finished fourth in voting for the Hart Memorial Trophy (NHL's MVP) that same year.
Over his 806-game career, Burke has seen action with the New Jersey Devils, the Hartford Whalers staying with that franchise through their move to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, Florida Panthers, Phoenix Coyotes, Tampa Bay Lightning and now the Los Angeles Kings.
"This organization has shown confidence in me, playing me almost every night and I know a lot of these guys and have a lot of respect for these guys. I think we have played tremendous and have had a chance to win almost every single night."