Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dave Burrows

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."


Anonymous said...

I saw Dave Burrows play alot when I was a kid in Pittsburgh. We loved him. We appreciated him then, too. He was no showboat. He was a worker. Piitsburghers back then didn't like show-offs. That's why Buc fans of the same time preferred Maz, Alley, and Stargell to Clemente (Roberto Complainte).

Anonymous said...

I watched Burrows and Horton play together. I saw Burrows get better playing with Horton. I also saw Horton's last horrible moment as a Penguin -- sliding a Black Hawk goal into his own net to end the Pens' playoffs that year ('71? '72? I forget). Anyway, the next year, Horton went to Buffalo and was partnered with Jim Schoenfeld. He turned Burrows and Schoenfeld into the two best defensive defensemen of the '70s before that horrible day when he drove his sports car into a wall and broke a lot of our hearts. The people who buy the doughnuts have no idea. (By the way -- the Canadian stores have oat cakes, which are way better than doughnuts.)

Anonymous said...

Didn't Tim Horton play with Red Kelly in Detroit? I think I remember Kelly and Horton doing interviews together in Pittsburgh, laughing about the old days. Also -- another great Penguin of the day was Eddie Shack. He was probably the most fun Penguin of those days. He was a "showboat," sure. But he had a humble way about him. He was a Canadian "hunky," too, which enamored him to Pittsburghers. (There were 3 million people in Allegheny County then, 60% of whom had a Polish or Slovak parent, according to census records.) We liked that whole Penguin team. They were a bunch of modest Canadian guys making crap money at the time when free agency was turning baseball and football players into "stars" who had less and less to do with working people.

swoopsdad said...

I'm Dave's nephew and talk to him all the time. He is still a very modest, hard working man. I know that he appreciates all the recognition that he has received over the years. He was very honoured to be inducted into the Pens Hall of Fame in 1996. I watched him play growing up and always thought that he didn't get the recognition he deserved. However I'm probably pretty biased on that score. I'm sure that he will be thrilled that some fans still appreciate all he did for the Pens.

Unknown said...

Sounds like he was an amazing player!The type of player i appreciate the most :)..glad there are still a couple true players out there not to be seen but to do his part!

Unknown said...

Dave Burrows was the assistant coach for my novice house league team in Shelburne, Ontario. my dad was the coach, this was the year after he retired. I remembered him as a very kind man with only words of encouragement and it didn't matter to him if you were the best player on the team or the one that needed the most practise. 31 years later i often still think about him and the rest of his family and wonder if they are stillon the Teen Ranch in Caledon. hope all is well with them.

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