Hockey world shows up in force for Burke

The Miami University Hockey team exits the funeral for Brendan Burke in Canton Massachusetts. (Dave...

The Miami University Hockey team exits the funeral for Brendan Burke in Canton Massachusetts. (Dave Abel/QMI Agency)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:47 AM ET

CANTON, Mass. — On a brisk, sunny New England morning, a bleary-eyed Pat Quinn squints as he approaches St. John the Evangelist Church, still feeling the effects of an all-night, cross-country odyssey that would have fatigued a man half his age.

Just 10 hours earlier, a frustrated Quinn, 67, had watched his Edmonton Oilers suffer a 6-1 thumping at the hands of the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday night, yet another setback in this lost season.

Then it was off to the airport, where a jet winged him from Arizona to Boston in the wee hours so that he could be on hand for the funeral of Brendan Burke, son of Leafs GM Brian Burke, here on Tuesday morning.

Now, here is Quinn, deprived of sleep, having travelled through three different time zones, just to be there to support his buddy “Burkie,” who will have to carry out any parent’s worst nightmare by putting his own flesh and blood into the ground later in the day.

“I wanted to be here to pay my respects,” Quinn says.

He’s not alone.

In a truly amazing outpouring of love and support, almost 1,000 people squeeze inside the normally spacious church on Washington St., in downtown Canton. Thirty minutes before the start of the service, every seat is occupied, leaving the overflow of mourners lined up two-deep against the walls.

Sitting near the front are the majority of players on the Maple Leafs roster, having exchanged their blue and white jerseys for black suit jackets and matching ties. They flew in from Toronto several hours before the service, accompanied by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. officials including Richard Peddie, Larry Tanenbaum, Bob Hunter, Tom Anselmi and Raptors GM Brian Colangelo.

The Leafs are not here because they have to be. The Leafs are here because they want to be.

“It was pretty much the players’ idea to come,” Peddie says.

Like hundreds in the church, most Leafs probably had never met Brendan Burke. No matter. This was about having a unified show of support for their boss on one of the most difficult days of his life.

Goalie J-S Giguere probably knows Brian Burke and his family better than most. They shared a Stanley Cup together in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks, the first NHL title for both men. Three years later, Giguere was going to make certain he and his new Toronto teammates are on hand to pay their respects.

“It’s great we could be there for him,” Giguere says. “The turnout is super.”

Adds Tanenbaum: “This is such a horrifying tragedy for an outstanding man in Brian.”

Tanenbaum and the MLSEL brass have stepped up to the plate ever since Friday’s tragic incident that took the lives of Brendan Burke, 21, and his friend Mark Reedy, 18.

Brendan and Mark were returning from a visit to the law school at Michigan State when Brendan’s SUV was broadsided by a truck on a snowy road in Wayne County, Ind. MLSEL arranged for a private jet to bring the accident victim to his family on Saturday.

Seated across from the Leafs, decked out in their red-and-white hockey jerseys, are members of the Miami of Ohio hockey club. Brendan Burke had been the student manager of the university team at the time of the accident.

As the services progresses, Brendan Burke is portrayed as a big-hearted kid who could be described by three Cs — caring, compassionate and courageous.

It was his courageousness that was on display when Brendan first admitted he was gay, a story that received national fanfare back in November. It was that same courageousness, the packed house is told, that is helping those in the hockey world to look at the complex issue of sexual preferences and gay rights with more open minds.

On this day, there are plenty of hockey’s movers and shakers on hand to heed that message.

Former NHLers Mark Messier and Brendan Shanahan are in attendance, as are GMs Doug Wilson (San Jose), Darryl Sutter (Calgary), Peter Chiarelli (Boston), Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia), Chuck Fletcher (Minnesota), Glen Sather (Rangers), Bob Murray (Anaheim) and Lou Lamoriello (New Jersey), just to name a few. Rangers coach John Tortorella, commissioner Gary Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly, NHL COO John Collins and a host of other league executives are sprinkled throughout the church, too.

“It shows what Brian means to people and how they want to support him in this time of need,” Bettman says.

On this day, hockey disputes are irrelevant. That’s why two normally bitter rivals in the Battle of Alberta, the Oilers’ Quinn and the Flames’ Sutter, are sitting next to each other. That’s why Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson shakes hands with Team USA co-GM David Poile, just 12 days before the Canadians and Americans face off against each other at the Vancouver Olympics.

On this day, losses in the standings mean nothing.

On this day, it’s all about the loss of a young man, Brendan Burke, who left this world far too soon.


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