October of 2003 was supposed to be a great time for Minnesota Wild fans, seeing as how the club had just come off a mind-boggling run to the Western Conference Finals. The nucleus of the club was expected to come back, and just maybe the team could repeat as the darlings of the Western Conference.
But Wild fans also saw a side effect of success in the NHL with Marian Gaborik, the team's bright young star, holding out during an ugly soap opera between Wild management and his agent.
Gaborik's holdout hung like a dark cloud over the team through training camp and into the regular season where the club went winless in six of the first seven games.
But in the third game of the season, a 3-2 home loss to San Jose, fans had one reason to smile as they watched a gangly 18-year-old named Brent Burns play right wing. In the first period, he churned up the right side, fired a low shot at Vesa Toskala and watched it trickle through the netminder's legs for his first NHL goal.
Burns spastically celebrated his milestone along the boards with his limbs flailing everywhere and a huge smile across his face as his much older teammates mobbed him.
A lot has changed since that goal, which was Burns' only tally of the season. Instead of a wiry teenage frame, he is a hulking beast of a man. Instead of playing the role of power forward, he's now the Wild's top scoring defenseman. Instead of being referred to as one of the Wild's top prospects, he's now a NHL All-Star.
Burns was named to the pool of All-Star players that will appear at the game on Sunday, January 30 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He'll be among a pool of 36 players that will be drafted by two team captains.
On Tuesday morning, Burns learned the news at breakfast and flashed that smile, which may be the one thing that hasn't changed since his teenage years.
"Every gameday we have a ritual where we go down for breakfast at 9 a.m.," said Burns. "I got a text from my good friend (Wild Communications Coordinator) Ryan Stanzel, so he was on the ball this morning. It's a great honor, and definitely unexpected."
Burns is certainly deserving. With 12 goals on the season, he ranks second among NHL defensemen and is well on his way to obliterating the franchise record of 15 he established in 2007-08. He leads all Wild defensemen and ranks third on the club in scoring with 26 points (12-14=26). His six power-play goals and 24:38 average time on ice lead the team, and he has two game winners.
Burns' stellar season comes on the heals of one of his toughest years ever when it came to hockey. After participating in Canada's Olympic training camp in the summer of 2009, big things were expected of the big defender. But he missed 29 games with a head injury, and then sat out six more games later in the season with a hip injury. He finished the year with three goals, his lowest total since his rookie year.
"It was a tough year," he admitted. "For this season to go this much better has been great. It's been good for my brain, getting back into things and feeling good. And the team has really been playing well, and the team success is the best part."
This year, he scored a goal in the first game of the season, and equaled his total from last year by the sixth game of the season.
"Getting that confidence early was huge, for sure," he said. "Guys talk about how important it is to be in good shape over the summer because getting off to a good start is so important. The mental part of the game is so big and if you feel good there, you relax and get into things. So that was definitely huge."
He becomes the sixth Wild player to be selected to the All-Star Game, joining Gaborik (2003 and 2008), Filip Kuba (2004), Dwayne Roloson (2004), Brian Rolston (2007) and Niklas Backstrom
(2009). Kuba is the only other Wild defenseman to be selected to play.
Burns is among 12 defensemen selected for this year's spectacle including: Atlanta's Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, Boston's Zdeno Chara, Chicago's Duncan Keith, Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, Nashville's Shea Weber, New York Rangers' Marc Staal, Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, Pittsburgh's Kris Letang, San Jose's Dan Boyle and Washington's Mike Green.
Burns won't know who his teammates will be for the All-Star Game until a televised Fantasy Draft on January 28.