Shawn Burr never turned out to be the big scorer in the NHL that he was in junior hockey but he was always one of the most popular players with each of his three teams during his 16 years in the league.
“Extremely witty,” said Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, who played with Burr on the Detroit Red Wings from 1984 to 1995. “That’s the first thing people would say when you talk about Shawn.”
Burr died Monday night after a fall at his home in St. Clair, Mich. He suffered severe brain trauma after falling down a set of stairs and was taken off life support, Dave Goetze, who runs the Shawn Burr Foundation, told The Detroit Free Press. He was 47.
Burr had battled acute myeloid leukemia since February, 2011 but had apparently won the fight after chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant. It was not immediately known if the fall was related to Burr’s battle with cancer. However, complications developed after the bone-marrow transplant that left Burr with side effects ranging from confusion to memory loss, according to The Free Press.
“He was a fun-loving kid who brought a lot of levity to the dressing room,” said Red Wings senior vice-president Jim Devellano, who drafted Burr seventh overall in the 1984 NHL entry draft after he had 85 points in 68 games for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.
“Obviously I had hoped maybe that scoring would translate to the NHL and it didn’t quite do it,” said Devellano, who remained friends with Burr after he was traded by the Wings. “But what he did turn out to be was a good two-way player. He was a good teammate, a good guy and had a very good career for himself.
“The last three or four years have not been pleasant for him. Unfortunately, he’s leaving us much too early.”
Burr was part of a group of young Red Wings who were drafted within a year or two of each other in the mid-1980s and who grew together into NHL contenders. The group included Yzerman, their leader, Gerard Gallant, Joey Kocur, Burr and Bob Probert. Burr was traded to the Lightning in 1995, just before the group made its first Stanley Cup final, and missed the championship years of 1997 and 1998.
This is not the first time tragedy hit this group of Red Wings. Defenceman Vladimir Konstantinov suffered career-ending head injuries in a limousine accident in 1997 that left him with permanent brain damage. In 2010, Probert died at the age of 45 of an apparent heart attack.
Whenever Burr arrived in the Red Wings dressing room, he drew a crowd, be it fellow players or reporters. He was always in good humour and never stopped talking. His teammates loved his jokes and reporters loved his one-liners about hockey.
“He always had that quick wit,” Yzerman said. “Something funny was always the first thing out of his mouth. He was an upbeat guy with a smile on his face.”
Terry Crisp, who was Burr’s coach during his first of two tours with the Lightning, told the Tampa Bay Times he was the best trash-talker he ever heard.
“I used to stand behind Shawn Burr on the bench with a pen and paper in my hand and write down the barbs he'd throw at the other players,” Crisp said. “He had to be one of the best trash-talkers I have ever, ever encountered in my career, and I heard some good ones, believe me.”
Burr, who was a native of Sarnia, Ont., made himself valuable to his teams with his checking and hitting, powered by a relentless work ethic. And he finished his 16 NHL seasons in 2000 with a respectable 440 points in 878 regular-season games.
After his NHL career was over, Burr moved back to the Detroit area where he worked for a brokerage firm. He also became active with the Red Wings alumni team and he raised more than $1.5-million (U.S.) for charities in the St. Clair area through his foundation.
"He was a funny guy, a nonstop talker, always had a trick to play," former teammate Chris Osgood told The Free Press. "My first game as a rookie, he put my name upside down on my jersey. He was the guy in the ’90s who kept everybody else relaxed. He did the dirty work for the team on the ice and then kept the guys relaxed in the dressing room."
Burr leaves his wife Amanda and daughters Madison and Maison.