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NHL All-Star Burns Acclimates Back to Defense

by Eric Gilmore / San Jose Sharks

When the San Jose Sharks decided to move Brent Burns back to defense this season after he spent a season and a half as a productive and disruptive force at forward, some questioned the move.

Burns was coming off a career-high 48-point season with 22 goals and 26 assists. He thrived on the top line with center Joe Thornton, who loved playing with free-spirited Burns, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound wrecking ball with an explosive slap shot.

Then there was the issue of Burns having to adjust to another position switch. He was chosen in the 2003 NHL Draft by the Minnesota Wild as a forward, but they turned him into a defenseman, and he was selected for the NHL All-Star Game at that position in 2011, his final one with Minnesota before being traded to San Jose. Midway through his second season with the Sharks, he was on the move again, going back to forward, where he energized a slumbering offense. He had nine goals and 20 points in 23 games after the switch that season.

The transition back to defense this season has been challenging at times for Burns, but he has 11 goals and 35 points in 47 games and was selected as an All-Star for the second time.

The 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game will be played Sunday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus (5 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"It's a huge honor," Burns said. "Obviously a lot of it stems from playing with great players. It's special. It's after the switch, obviously. I think it just shows there's been a lot of support and a lot of help in getting me back onto point."

Burns has continued to draw attention off the ice for his work in the community, much of it aimed at supporting members of the military and their families. Last year he was one of three finalists for the 2014 NHL Foundation Player Award, which is awarded to a player who applies the core values of hockey (commitment, perseverance and teamwork) to enrich the lives of people in his community.

Burns has been a strong supporter of Defending The Blue Line since it was founded in 2009 in Minnesota while he was playing for the Wild. The nonprofit provides hockey equipment and financial assistance to the children of military members to help them participate in the sport. Burns raised more than $24,000 this year in his "Burnzie's Buzz Cut for Charity" event. Burns and a few teammates shaved their beards and most of their hair for a good cause. He also donates a suite at SAP Center to military families for every Sharks home game.

Burns talked about his return to the All-Star Game, his memories of his first All-Star experience, his charitable work, and his love of tattoos.

Does being chosen for the All-Star Game in a way validate the decision to move you back to defense?

"I knew I could play both. Validation I don't think really matters. The people that matter for me within the organization believed I could do it."

Off the ice you've spent so much of your time, energy and money for charitable causes for military veterans and military families. Where did that stem from?

"I have a lot of family history with the military, and it's always been a big interest of mine. Political beliefs aside, I think just what people in the armed forces and their families, what they do, I think it's important to say thank you and be there to support them."

What did it mean to you to be named as a finalist for the NHL Foundation Player Award last year?

"That's not the reason why we do things. It's an honor to be involved with that award, and to get the chance to go to the NHL Awards was really special for me and my family. It was a great time. I think there's all the reasons why we do it. I've been pretty lucky to do some pretty cool experiences and meet a lot of great people doing it."

Who came up with the idea for the Burnzie's Buzz Cut?

"That was my wife. She came up with the idea, probably more because she just was sick of looking at my hair. It really took off. It was a fun event for everybody. The fans here really took hold of it and really showed why the support that we get here."

Was it easy to get your teammates to go along? There were quite a few buzz cuts here.

"Yeah, it was great. A lot of guys did it this year. That's special. It made it more special for fans. They get to meet more guys and see guys interact. It was fun, it was cool."

What's the tattoo count up to now?

"That's a secret. Lots."

You got your first tattoo at 11?


Your parents went along with that?

"Yup. I got to design it. It was fun."

Your first tattoo had hockey sticks and the Canadian flag. Does each tattoo have a story and a special meaning in your life?

"Time goes by, and it always brings it back to what was happening at that time. They all have meaning."

When you came to San Jose, you described yourself as a big kid. Do you have that same feeling now, a few years later?

"Yeah. I've played a long time, but I try to have fun. That's kind of the way I deal with things. Obviously I'm not, but it's one way to kind of get through the work and the business side of things. You have to have fun."

How did the transition back to defense go for you, and what were the biggest challenges?

"I think just feeling comfortable. Getting back all those little things is tough. Coaches helped me a lot and just watching the other [defensemen] and seeing things that they do."

What do you remember most from your first All-Star Game as a young guy going there?

"I think the first one I was pretty nervous. Pretty star-struck. It's an amazing event. It's a lot of fun. The families are around. It's just a great thing to be around. To see guys interacting with their kids in the room. Guys have their dad in the room. It's just a really cool event, and the NHL does a great job of putting it on for the guys."

Do you remember a couple players you were star-struck seeing?

"Yeah, like Marty St. Louis, Nicklas [Lidstrom]. Everybody in that room. You know most guys around the League, but to see them in the room is different, to see how they prepare. It's just a really cool event."

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