There’s a new sport and a smaller platform. But this was very much the same old Brian Burke.
Named to a role as a member of Rugby Canada’s board of directors earlier in the week, the former general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs was the star attraction at his introductory press conference Thursday, but even that hadn’t drawn a crowd.
Even so, Burke made the most of his time on the podium, showing his time out of the spotlight hadn’t wilted his ability to play to a crowd.
“You don’t wear skates,” Burke quipped when a reporter asked about the differences between hockey and rugby. “There’s more players in rugby. There’s no ice.”
All kidding aside, Burke also made it known Thursday that, next to hockey, rugby is near and dear to his heart.
He played five years as a prop for the Harvard Business School Rugby Football Club and was “flattered and honoured” to join the Rugby Canada board on a volunteer basis to try and help promote the sport in North America.
Starting a professional league is one item on the agenda, as is helping on the marketing side.
“It’s a sport I respect very much, love very much,” Burke said. “So when I was asked, it was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I’ll do it in a heartbeat.’”
What the role won’t mean, however, is that Burke is content stepping away from the NHL. He took on a part-time scouting role with another of his former teams, the Anaheim Ducks, in February, and remains hopeful he can helm a team in the near future.
The Leafs failed to make the playoffs in Burke’s four years as GM, and he was fired unceremoniously before training camp in January. But with minimal changes to the roster he had put in place, Toronto went on to qualify for the postseason for the first time in nine years.
With his recent record mixed and no GM positions expected to open until at least next spring, he will likely be in for a relatively long wait to get back into the big chair.
“It doesn’t change my intention to get back at the GM level,” Burke said of his Rugby Canada role. “It doesn’t diminish that urge.”
As for further comparisons between his two favourite sports, Burke had plenty of more substantial ones, calling rugby “a warrior’s game” in which he had sustained most of his personal injuries.
“I think every long-term injury I have came from rugby, not from hockey,” he said, listing his various ailments and operations. “Shoulders and neck. I’ve had both shoulders done. Right knee twice.”
Burke was also asked to address the Canadian Medical Association’s recent admonishment of the NHL for “tolerating and promoting violence” for financial gain and to the detriment of players.
While acknowledging he hadn’t yet read the story and couldn’t address it directly, Burke had no problem setting off on a rant defending the existence of “violent” sports such as hockey and rugby.
“If anyone in the medical community thinks it’s a revelation that this is a violent sport, then they wasted seven years of undergraduate and medical school,” Burke said. “It is a violent sport. It’s a contact sport. It’s a full-contact sport. And so is hockey.
“I played contact sports because I wanted to have the contact. The people that don’t want contact should play other sports. There are wonderful sports you can play where you’ll never get an injury. You can be a swimmer. It’s a great sport. You might get a cold, but you probably won’t get a concussion,” Burke said. “This is a full-contact sport. None of us that play it, none of us that coach it, and none of us that work with it, apologize for that.”