How can that be, one might ask, when center Brad Richards led the club in scoring, and finished 10th in the league, with 77 points despite missing 10 games due to injury, or when captain Brenden Morrow
topped the squad with a career-high 33 goals, or when goaltender Kari Lehtonen
was outstanding all year and stabilized the Stars’ performance in the crease?
Yes, but consider this. Despite registering a modest eight goals and 14 points (both career-highs), the gritty Burish provided a boatload of intangibles, such as tenacious penalty killing, vocal locker room leadership and a calming presence on the bench.
And one statistic stands out above all others: in the 63 games Burish skated in, the Stars posted a 38-18-7 record (a .659 points percentage), while struggling to a 4-11-4 mark (.316) in the 19 games he missed due to two separate injuries over the final two months of the season.
Of course, the humble 28-year-old native of Madison, Wisc., downplayed the significance of those numbers, and while he is correct that some other factors came into play, the stunning disparity in the club’s performance with him versus without him is difficult to ignore.
“Part of that could have been circumstance, too,” suggested the 6-foot, 190-pound Burish, who led all Stars forwards with 70 blocked shots and finished second on the squad with 91 penalty minutes. “It felt like the games I was out was always against some of the top-end teams. Other guys were hurt, and it seemed like when one guy would go down, other guys would go down, too. It was more that just me, I don’t think I was the difference or the reason that, we lose a game, it’s because Adam’s not playing - that’s just silly.
“I would like to think that hopefully, when I am playing, it adds some consistency to our lineup, you have more depth that way and you have a few other guys, (Steve Ott
) and I, you have some guys you can throw around on different lines and in different roles, killing penalties or face-offs or whatever - little things that made our lineup more consistent when you had those pieces in there. But to say we lost a game because I wasn’t playing is just stupid.”
His battle to get back in the lineup after two difficult injuries also speaks volumes to his high-quality character and his toughness. First, after suffering facial fractures during a fight in that ill-fated 6-3 loss at Boston on Feb. 3, Burish missed eight games and immediately provided a spark upon his return that turned a five-game losing streak into a 6-0-2 hot stretch.
Then on March 11, Burish suffered what at the time was deemed to be a ‘lower body injury,’ but turned out to be a fractured fibula bone in his leg, and the club went into another tailspin, going 1-5-3 in their next nine without him.
Burish accelerated the rehab process again, and made it back into the lineup again, even though he was still in a lot of pain, for the final three contests.
“The last game was probably the best I felt, but it wasn’t good,” acknowledged Burish, who was originally Chicago’s ninth-round selection (282nd overall!) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. “It felt like it was almost every time you turn one way or you try and stop and start again, you just have no power, your leg feels kind of dead. For awhile, it was really painful. I could hardly walk, I’m limping around and guys on the bench were laughing a bit, saying, ‘Just get out of here.’ The last game, I felt good, but the last month wasn’t easy. I was in the hyperbaric chamber every day, I was eating pills left and right, just trying to do whatever I could. I was getting shots every game, taking pills to just try and practice, and I guess slowly, it just kind of came together a little bit. It was good enough to play the last couple of games, but it didn’t feel great.”
And of course, even with Burish out there for the final game, the Stars, with an opportunity to seize the eighth and final playoff spot with a win, wound up dropping a 5-3 decision to Minnesota and missed the post-season for the third straight season. For a guy who won the Stanley Cup last season with Chicago, it was pretty tough for Burish to accept, although he sees a bright future here.
“Just the way it ended leaves a sour taste in your mouth and it’s pretty disappointing, but for me, I would take away a lot of positives and some excitement about where this group is going,” said Burish, who signed a two-year free agent deal with Dallas last July after spending his first three-plus NHL seasons with the Blackhawks. “For people outside watching, obviously, disappointment and injuries and saying, ‘You guys didn’t get the job done.’ It was a tough year that way, but there’s a lot of positive stuff going on around here, and I’m excited about what I think this group can do.”
With a greatly expanded role than he had in Chicago, Burish flourished with more ice time, logging a career-high 14:20 per contest while excelling in penalty killing and providing another strong face-off presence, winning 53.5 percent of his draws, in addition to his checking line duties.
Assistant coach Charlie Huddy singled him out for his prowess on the PK unit.
“He’s a big part of the penalty kill, he’s a guy that blocks a lot of shots, gets in shooting lanes,” Huddy said of Burish. “He’s just a guy with a lot of experience that you always need on the penalty kill. And he brings a lot into the room, for the guys. Any time you go to the Stanley Cup Finals and you win, you gain a lot of experience in the room and just how things go, and especially on the ice, the different situations you’re in. And having to go out and kill a penalty in the Stanley Cup Finals, I think that definitely helps him, and I think it gives everybody else killing penalties a little bit of a boost, too.”
Okay, so maybe calling him the Stars’ MVP is a taking it a bit too far, but there’s no question Burish served as one of the club’s key ‘glue guys,’ contributing both on and off the ice.
“For me, it was as fun a season of hockey as I’ve had, just as far as everything that goes on,” said Burish, who also won an NCAA national championship in 2006 at the University of Wisconsin. “You obviously always want to win a championship again and that’s the ultimate, but for me and the responsibilities I had this year and the role I had, it was a fun year of hockey for me.”