September 19, 2007

Sean Burke Retires

It's hardly surprising, but still it is sad. Veteran goaltender Sean Burke is leaving the ice.

I was always a big fan of Burke, although he never really accomplished anything in terms of championships. He was the Marcel Dionne of goaltenders, if you will. Great talent, terrible teams to play with. As a result, he never was able to make a name for himself in the NHL playoffs. In fact, in 20 years in the bigs, he only had a chance to play in 37 playoff contests.

I became a big fan of Burke before he was a NHL goalie. He outplayed Andy Moog on the 1987-88 Canadian National Team that played in the Calgary Olympics. Canada's weak teams could never beat the Soviet "amateurs," but things looked really promising on Alberta ice that year. Backed almost solely by the goaltending, Canada was even picked to win gold by Sports Illustrated. It didn't happen, but as Eric Duhatshek also recalls those were sweet memories.

Then Burke jumped straight to the NHL, going 10-1-0 with the traditionally sad sack New Jersey Devils. He also took the Devils deep into the playoffs, before bowing to the Boston Bruins in the conference finals. A star was born.

Perhaps the last great stand up goalie, he was forced out of NJ with Martin Brodeur waiting in the wings. He went on to star with Hartford, Philadelphia, and Phoenix with brief stops in Carolina, Vancouver, Tampa Bay, Florida and Los Angeles.

Burke was an obvious inclusion in my book Legends of Team Canada. He played in 5 world championships, 2 Olympics and should have been the third goalie in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake. He was definitely good enough, a great leader, and deserving of that elusive epic victory.

Alas he will likely fade away in hockey's history. A really good goalie on some real bad teams. But I will always remember Sean Burke as one of the best goalies of his era.


Doc Nagel said...

Amen. Sean Burke at his best was a sight to behold. He had a grace and presence in goal that is rare. Perhaps because of his size and movement, he reminded me of Ken Dryden, only on teams never good enough. The comparison with Marcel Dionne couldn't be more apt.

Anonymous said...

Apart from some good performances for Canada, Burke could be counted on to fold when under pressure. I could never understand his reputation as a top or even a number one goaltender. He had an ability to shine when games didn't matter or were in Toronto but he was never in the top 5 of goalies during his career. Cujo was way better and I don't see him getting in either.