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Burns, Sharks fans having blast at All-Star Game

Defenseman shares wild stories, love of game in San Jose

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

SAN JOSE -- Everyone knows Brent Burns loves animals, the defenseman has one of the most colorful personalities in the NHL and the San Jose Sharks are a unique cast of characters.

But did you know Burns was bitten by a cheetah while one teammate laughed and another ran? That he owns snakes who live in Michigan and he sees them when the Sharks visit the Detroit Red Wings? That after the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game at SAP Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS), he and his family will fly back to their Texas ranch hoping one of their new antelopes will have a baby?

Did you know Burns grew out his beard to be like his dad? That his dad used to drive him to hockey each day in the dead of winter on a motorcycle? That he loves this event like a kid, because he loved it as a kid?

 

[RELATED: Karlsson says no timetable for contract talks with SharksAll-Star Game chance for Sharks to reward fans, inspire more in San Jose]

 

Burns might be the star of the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend, not just because he's representing the Sharks at home with teammates Erik Karlsson and Joe Pavelski, but because he's sharing so much of himself with the fans and having so much fun doing it.

Like the other players, Burns spoke to reporters for about 15 minutes at NHL All-Star Media Day presented by adidas at City National Civic on Thursday. But he recognized fans who often come to Sharks practice at Solar4America Ice. He made them cheer.

Then he went to the 2019 NHL Fan Fair at San Jose McEnery Convention Center across the street and spent more than an hour posing for photos with fans, shaking hands, slapping fives, bumping fists, giving hugs. And after that, he spent almost an hour telling stories and answering questions from Sharks TV voice Randy Hahn and the fans themselves.

You had to hear the one about the cheetah. Burns won't say exactly where they were, but when the Sharks were visiting the Columbus Blue Jackets once, he went for an animal experience with teammates Joe "Jumbo" Thornton and Colin White. (It must have been 2011-12, the only season White played in San Jose.) It was cold, Burns was wearing a cashmere sweater and no one told him that could trigger the cheetah's predatory instinct.

"This thing just snapped and bit me, and Jumbo freaked out," Burns said, smiling. "And he starts laughing, like, 'Oh, god! Burnzie!' And I was like, 'Whoa. I got hit hard.' … So the zookeeper's like, 'Are you all right?' And I'm like, 'I don't know.' And Jumbo is still howling in the background, laughing. Colin White, who is a big tough guy, was gone. He ran."

Video: Burns on playing in San Jose, being an All-Star

The zookeepers asked Burns to lift up his shirt. He had three tooth marks in his ribs.

"And Jumbo was still laughing," Burns said.

The zookeepers brought out a different cheetah, and they took pictures with it.

"We're like, 'Hey, we can't tell anybody,' " Burns said. "The next day, everybody knew. Jumbo would not shut up about these cheetahs. If I was hurt the next day, what are they going to say on the game sheet? I missed the game because I got bit by a cheetah? That was crazy. Luckily I wasn't hurt, and we still laugh about it."

Burns once was famous for his pet snakes. But after the Minnesota Wild traded him to the Sharks on June 24, 2011, he couldn't bring them all to San Jose. So a friend drove to Minnesota, picked them up and brought them to a big building in Michigan with something like 60,000 snakes. 

"So when we play the Red Wings, I usually go check them out and bring a couple of the boys in," Burns said. "It's like a jungle in there. It's hot. It's humid. I brought Jumbo a couple times, and he's not a huge fan of animals. No, he loves animals, but he's terrified of them, anything that can bite him."

Video: Brent Burns crashes the set on All-Star Media Day

Burns played his 1,000th NHL game at SAP Center on Dec. 27, scoring the winner in a 4-2 victory against the Anaheim Ducks. As part of the celebration, his teammates gave him two female gemsboks, or large South African antelopes, because they knew he had a lone male on his ranch (called Double B's Top Shelf Ranch because, he said, "you've got to shoot upstairs"). He gave the fans more details than he had shared before.

"They're pretty rare, and they're pretty expensive," Burns said. "I had the opportunity to get a male for a discounted price because he's missing one horn. I didn't care about that horn, really, because we're breeding them. … He's been kind of walking around lonely, hanging out with some elk and some different antelopes. Yeah, when the boys got the two females, that was pretty incredible. He's happy."

Each female is pregnant. One is due soon, and the Sharks have their mandatory five-day break coming up.

"Our ranch manager that lives there, he can tell these things," Burns said. "He's unbelievable with the animals. He's like, 'She's going to have a baby any day.' So after the All-Star Game, we're going to fly out Sunday to go to the ranch for a couple days. We're hoping she has the baby when we're there."

Burns is one of kind. When a fan asked him when he first wanted to be a hockey player, he said: "My mom would say when she was three months pregnant probably. I don't know. Early." He said he grew out his beard because he had memories of his dad with one, and he bought a motorcycle, even though he can't ride it yet, because his dad would take him to hockey on a Honda Gold Wing.

"I was strapped in the back with my two sticks to keep me in the seat, with my hockey bag on my lap," Burns said.

Burns used to watch the All-Star Game each year as a kid and collected jerseys, including both jerseys worn in the 1997 All-Star Game in San Jose and a Sharks jersey. He still wears Sharks stuff in the offseason because he loves the logo, and he still loves the All-Star Game, especially now that it is in San Jose. He's a parent now and wants his family to enjoy it. He wants everyone to enjoy it.

"It's to repay the fans for all the support that we get through the year, that they get to see the best players from all around, one building, one night," Burns said. "It's awesome."

If only we could share everything he shared with the fans -- about his routine, about loving the grind of the game, about his teammates and the team atmosphere, about Thornton playing old-school songs on a portable speaker and dedicating them to teammates after tough losses to lighten the mood.

But hey, how could we top the cheetah story, anyway?

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