As Brian Burke prepared to mark his 1,000th game as a general manager in the National Hockey League this weekend, his daughter Katie Burke wrote to The Globe and Mail in response to media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin's article on Friday. Dowbiggin reported a debate as to whether the media in Toronto is holding back criticism of the Maple Leafs General Manager out of sympathy, as Brian Burke continues to grieve the loss of his son Brendan in a car accident last year.
As Brian's oldest daughter, I wanted to take a moment to clarify some of the assumptions made in the ongoing conversation within the Toronto media:
First and foremost, my dad hates losing. Hates it. He hates losing at Scrabble, he hates losing a bet, and he really hates losing hockey games.
Growing up, the first thing you told any friend who attended a hockey game with you was that if the team lost, they would be well advised not to speak to my dad after the game. I can guarantee you that there is nothing the media could write or say about the Leafs' performance that my dad hasn't thought himself, and no one is more critical of his own work than my father.
So, I do not take issue with anyone criticizing the Leafs' in the win-loss column. That is part of the job, and part of the responsibility my dad eagerly assumed when he joined the team.
I do however, take issue with [Andrew]Krystal's implication that my dad can't "take the heat" and Todd Kays' assertion that the world doesn't stop when you experience a personal tragedy. The truth is, if anyone had taken the time to engage someone who knows my dad in this conversation, they would tell you that in this time of incredible loss, hockey is my dad's respite. Since Brendan's death he has not slowed his travel, his calendar, or his passion for improving the team, and the rink continues to be, as it has been for years, his haven.
This weekend is Maple Leafs' Dads and Sons Weekend in addition to being the weekend during which my dad will complete his 1000th game as a GM. To suggest that Brendan's memory will not be at the top of my dad's mind during both these milestones is foolish. As one of the comments online regarding Bruce's column stated, when you a lose a child, a "day doesn't go by that you don't ache." I feel certain that is true for Bob Gainey years later as it is for my dad, for whom it has been only months.
Turning around a losing franchise is a considerable challenge, one that takes time, patience, and a willingness to accept ebbs and flows. In that regard, it is similar to grief-a long, non-linear process with significant uncertainly and considerable stress. I can confirm for everyone involved in this conversation that my brother's death has had a profound impact on my dad, but to speculate that his heart isn't in the game is incorrect. In fact, the long hours he spends at the Air Canada Centre, scouting players, calling fellow GMs, and strategizing with his team, are the best way he knows to move forward.
Many writers remark at my dad's colourful vocabulary, typically peppered with terms like "pestilence" and "tenacity." I can assure you as his daughter that "losing" and "pity" are two words with no place in my dad's vernacular. To that end, it is my hope that this conversation comes to an end, and that experts and radio hosts alike can stop discussing whether or not to go easy on my dad. Like any gritty hockey veteran, he doesn't need people to go easy on him, he just wants to focus on the team and the game he loves.