For several years now, one of my favorite Wild players has been defenseman Brent Burns. He came to the team very young, and has grown up right in front of us. He's always had a bit of a quirky streak, a reputation as a bit of a prankster and just always sounded like a fun guy. His house is also home to dozens of tropical fish, snakes, a loud Macaw and a pair of Huskies that are big enough to pull Brent around the neighborhood on rollerbalades. He's become one of the league's best defenseman, and has some terrific offensive skills that we may see more of under new coach Todd Richards.
I also liked him because he wasn't afraid to talk about how much he respected the military. Burnsie's grandfather, Patrick, lived with the family while Brent was growing up, and the young Burns brothers loved to listen to Patrick - an artilleryman in World War II - tell stories about the war.
Brent and his brother, Brad, have identical tattoos on their left arms. The tattoo features a cross and Canadian military helmet. In the background is a Bofor artillery gun, shooting over the hills of Sicily, and below the picture it reads, "Patrick Joseph Burns, 1911-1998."
Now here's another reason to root for this good guy: According to a Tuesday story by ace reporter (see Sept. 2 blog entry below) Mike Russo, Burnsie has purchased a suite for the 2009-2010 season, and donated it to the National Guard. For each Wild home game, Burns will host veterans and their families in the suite. They will all get "Burnzie's Battalion" shirts, and meet him after each game.
Anyone who has spent time around professional athletes will tell you that hockey players are far and away the friendliest and most accessible. Most of them don't make the huge money that baseball, football and basketball players make, and lots of them come from small-town backgrounds that help keep them humble. Burns has always been a classy guy, and this latest gesture increases my esteem even more.