Most people will agree that Bobby Orr is the best defenseman ever. But how about the best pure defensive defenseman? While there are a lot of candidates, one of them would have to be the heavily underrated and under appreciated Dave Burrows.
While Orr lit up the scoreboard during the 1970s, Burrows was busy preventing goals with the Pittsburgh Penguins and later the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Burrows wasn't a physically dominating, crease clearing blueliner. Instead he relied on a greater understanding of the game to be in perfect position no matter what scenario he was faced with. He was an expert shot blocker and above all else, was known as one of the best skaters of his time. He amazed many observers with his incredible speed and agility. Some felt he could skate faster backward than most could go forward.
"I took a lot of pride in being able to move laterally and backwards with great ease. It took a lot of practice, but it was something I enjoyed doing," he said.
"In fact, I used to get a big kick out of skating backwards on two-on-one breaks or one-on-one breaks against me when I was back on defense. It was a challenge trying to break up situations like that. I enjoyed that part of the game the most."
Growing up in Toronto, Burrows idolized the legendary defensive backliner Tim Horton.
"I can remember watching Tim play on TV when I was a kid, but I never patterned my style of play after him. I just admired the way he played defense."
Needless to say, it was greatly exciting for Burrows to join the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1971-72, a team that also featured Horton.
"The biggest thrill of my career was playing defense with Tim when we were together in Pittsburgh. I was in awe of the man. In fact, the first time I was introduced to him I didn't know what to say!
"And Tim wasn't afraid to give out advice or help. He helped me out with a lot of little things in my game. He's a man I'll never forget, I owe him a lot."
Unfortunately for Burrows and defensive minded rearguards like him during the 1970s, he received virtually no recognition. Bobby Orr revolutionized the way defensemen played the game. No longer were they on the ice to stop goals, but instead to create offense.
"I guess you would have to say it was tough getting any recognition with a guy like Bobby around" said Burrows. "But that really didn't bother me because I really didn't like getting a lot of attention. I just enjoyed my game."
Burrows greatly admired Orr too.
"Sitting back and watching a guy like Orr, you knew that he deserved to get all the awards he got. He could skate so well. And he was a good defensive defenseman. With the speed he had he could come back and cover up on some of the mistakes he made. To say the least, he was adept on defense. I wouldn't mind having him on my team. He was the best I ever saw.
Burrows retired from the National Hockey League in 1981. He scored just 29 goals in 724 games, but was one of the best in the league at his role.
In retirement Burrows went on to own a industrial maintenance business in Brampton Ontario where he did everything from lawn care to painting fences.
"I don't miss the game" he said years later. "I miss the guys and the fun we had. I really don't even follow the game that much today."