But now the former forward, who played 16 pro seasons – including 11 with the Red Wings and two with the San Jose Sharks – is preparing to enter the second major fight of his life in the last year.
The acute myeloid leukemia that Burr defeated into remission a year ago has returned for a second battle and former teammates in San Jose want him to know that they’re in his corner.
“We had heard the story that he had gone in for check-up because he didn’t feel very good,” said Mike Ricci, who played two seasons with Burr in San Jose. “They did some tests and helicoptered him right away. We knew that wasn’t good.”
But the last Ricci knew was that Burr had successfully fought off the disease, so when he heard Saturday that Burr relapsed, the news stung like an uppercut.
“This is just terrible news,” said Ricci, in his third year as Sharks’ development coach. “We had heard that he had been doing better.
“In the hockey world, especially when players come through here, you hope that they do well with whatever they do after they leave. I know the organization is upset. It sucks I tell you, it sucks. Sure it happens, but Bursy’s a great guy, great with the kids that would come around the rink and joke with them. Obviously not to the same extend that he did in the locker room, but he had that same personality.”
Ricci is quite familiar with cancer and what it does to patients. He was a 19-year-old rookie playing for Philadelphia when cancer took the life of his father, Mario, after a long fight.
“It’s such a horrible disease,” Ricci said. “I’ve been through enough hospital wards and seen the cancer patients who battle every day, and I’m sure Bursy is doing the same. In fact, I know he is.”
Sunday, the day after he hosted a charity hockey classic in suburban Detroit to find a bone marrow match and raise money for the Shawn Burr Foundation
, Burr returned to the hospital where he will start a new round of chemotherapy on Monday with hopes of knocking out the cancer cells while he waits for a donor.
AML is a fast developing cancer that attacks the blood cell-producing bone marrow.
Patrick Marleau was a rookie when Burr was traded from Tampa Bay to the Sharks prior to the 1997-98 season. More than a decade later, the Sharks’ All-Star center still has vivid memories of life with Bursy.
“We always had fun around the rink with him and that was one of the things that you can learn from a veteran guy when you’re a kid,” Marleau said. “But you have to continue that, otherwise it becomes a job and becomes taxing and you’re not fully into it. But if you can do something that you love and can continue doing until a veteran age into your 30s like he was, that’s great. And that’s what he taught me.”
Whether on the ice, in the locker room or in the community, Burr has always lived life to the fullest. And as anyone who knows him will say, Bursy’s never missed an opportunity to pull a practical joke on an unsuspecting teammate or draw a laugh from a roomful of people.
What Marleau liked most is that Burr not only dished out the shenanigans, but he took it too.
Like the time veteran forward Ron Stern got revenge for an early prank involving a pair of his shoes and paint. “He had these shoes that kind of looked like bowling shoes,” Marleau said. “Shawn painted number 11s on the back of them as in size 11.”
Stern got payback by pouring popcorn through the sunroof of Burr’s car, filling the compartment from top to bottom with popped kernels.
There was also the time outside a Florida restaurant that Marty McSorley had enough ribbing from Burr that the two wrestled in the parking lot where McSorley tried to push Burr into the luggage compartment under the team’s charter bus.
“We had to jump in before somebody got hurt, because they were going at it pretty good,” Ricci said. “Marty just couldn’t hang with him with the one-liners.”
But that was hockey life with Burr, never a dull moment.
“Every day was something new and every pre-game meal he had either turtle soup or rabbit soup, there was a hair in it,” Marleau said. “He had those jokes going every day. He always liked to have fun and he was a prankster.
“But heck, I can remember taking him in my playoff pool when I was a kid. He was a real good player come playoff time.”
Burr only played 60 games for the Sharks, but that was enough to leave a lasting impression on Marleau, now in his 14th NHL season.
“He was my linemate there for a while and he always had his teammates’ back, his linemates’ back,” Marleau said. “He always played hard, played strong and he was always talking, he was definitely chatting out there and played against the other teams’ top players, and ever against some of the other teams’ antagonizers and he won quite a few of those verbal battles.”
Ricci was a similarly gritty player, who appreciated what Burr brought to the team every night.
“I could relate to him because I like to think that I’m an easy going guy off of the ice, too,” Ricci said. “I guess that I got to some people and got under their skin, and for a guy who was really happy-go-lucky off of the ice, he had that in him too. But when he got on the ice, he would disturb a little bit and he would stick his nose in there and I really liked that. And our team was a pretty scrappy team that year, so he fit in good.”
Now more than ever before, Bursy’s scrappiness will be more important in his latest fight. Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill