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Alex Burrows celebrates a goal against the Boston Bruins during Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.
Antoine Roussel celebrates after he scored a goal against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on February 16, 2019 in San Jose, California.
Alex Burrows celebrates a shootout goal against the Edmonton Oilers during their NHL game at Rogers Arena April 9, 2016
They remember many things about the early days of their friendship, but the one that stands out for both men is the legend of the shooter tutor.
The shooter tutor? Yes, the shooter tutor. Pull up a chair.
Alex Burrows, it seems, had been gifted a pair of the items by a skills coach at the Centre D’Excellence in the Montreal suburb of Boisbriand. One went up in Burrows’ backyard. The other was passed on to a young player the Canucks winger had been working out with that summer; a kid who was trying to find his way in the game, a kid Burrows saw a lot of himself in.
A month or so later the kid relayed some unfortunate news to Burrows. His tutor, it seemed, had passed on to that great rink in the sky. After absorbing, literally, thousands of shots, it just kind of disintegrated one day.
“Mine still looked good but he put a lot of pucks on that thing,” Burrows said, cracking up at the memory.
“I actually went through two,” says Antoine Roussel. “They were beaten up a little bit but my shot got better and my confidence with the puck got better. I always come back to the moment.”
And now they have a new moment to share.
Tuesday night, Burrows’ impossible story was made complete when his name was placed on the Canucks’ Ring of Honour. Our Rudy, an undrafted free agent who survived two seasons in the East Coast League, now stands with Orland Kurtenbach, Pat Quinn and Thomas Gradin in a revered place in the franchise’s history. He was the longest of long shots but, somehow, someway, he lasted 13 seasons in the NHL, largely because he believed in himself and not what everyone else was telling him.
But you knew that about Burrows, knew his story, knew what he represents. The remarkable part of Tuesday was, taking in the ceremony from the Canucks’ bench, was another player who followed the same unlikely path, another no-hoper who never lost hope.
They’ve shared a lot over the last nine years, a lot more than a shooter tutor, and you didn’t have to probe too deeply to understand what this night meant to both men.
“He reminds me of myself, that’s for sure,” Burrows said. “I still remember him at that first Canucks’ camp (in 2011). He didn’t really get a true chance to make the roster but I still remember him in exhibition games. He fought Douglas Murray (a giant defenceman with the Sharks). You could see his intensity, his passion for the game.
“That’s the biggest thing we have in common: our passion for the game.”
Roussel, as it happens, was making his return to the Canucks’ lineup on Tuesday after shredding his ACL last March. He wanted this game for himself.
He also wanted it for Burrows.
“This was my target,” he said. “He’s been like a big brother to me, a big inspiration. Every kind word you can say he’s been there for me. I wanted to be part of this.”
Roussel, who signed a four-year, US$12 million deal in summer 2018, is actually on his second go-round with the Canucks and you can be excused if you don’t remember his first one. In summer 2011 he was offered an amateur tryout and invited to the young stars camp in Penticton after four largely forgettable years in Chicoutimi, Que., and a failed season with the Bruins AHL affiliate in Providence, R.I.
That summer, he trained in a group with Burrows in Boisbriand and made enough of an impression to land a spot with the Canucks’ farm team in Chicago. Alas, he counted just four goals and nine points in 61 games with the Wolves before he was let go. The next year he signed a two-way deal with Dallas, was in the show halfway through the season and has never looked back.
So what happened?
Burrows, who pulled 4 1/2 seasons in the minors with four different teams before he got his shot with the Canucks, is now an assistant coach with the Canadiens AHL-farm team in Laval, Que., and preaches the same message every minor-league coach preaches to his players.
“I tell them keep working every day,” he said. “You never know when you’re getting your break. When you get the call, you better be ready.”
Roussel is living proof of that. In addition to wearing out shooter tutors, he trained like a Green Beret each summer. Like Burrows, he could always skate, but there was also a fearlessness to his game that was hard to miss.
“I’ve never seen anyone who stays in the gym or the rink longer than he does,” Burrows said of Roussel. “He works at his game every day and he wants to get better.”
It also helps when you have an established player in your corner.
“He took me under his wing,” Roussel said. “He was just positive. It helps when somebody like him says good game or keep going, you’re getting noticed. Even when I made it to Dallas he’d text me, ‘Great game tonight.’ He was watching my games. This guy loves hockey.”
And Tuesday night, hockey loved him back. Before the Canucks’ pre-game skate Tuesday morning Burrows stood and answered every question about his career here. He talked about the highlights. He talked about Luc Bourdon and Rick Rypien, teammates and friends he had lost. He talked about 2011 and playing with the Sedin twins on one of the best lines in the game.
Alex Burrows, former member of the Greenville (S.C.) Grrrowl and Baton Rouge (La.) Kingfish. And now he’s up there with some of the greats in Canucks’ history.
“Crazy and impossible,” Burrows said. “But that’s not why I played.”
No, you know why he played and know that it lives on with Roussel.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019