U Sports Hockey: Brendan Burke on verge of making U Sports history

“It’s an honour, I get to represent my school and U Sports in a situation I never could have expected.” those were the words of Team Canada Spengler Cup and Alberta Golden Bear’s goaltender Brendan Burke mere hours after he was named to his nations roster.

He was named to the Canadian Spengler Cup team last week, becoming the first U Sports player to make it to that level in the Canadian men’s game. The international invitational tournament will give him his first taste of Canadian national team hockey and will bring him up against world-class adult players for the first time in his career.

The Canadian roster is littered with NHL veterans as well as players who have established themselves in the European top leagues, but it’s not something that fazes Burke. “It’s going to be a higher level for sure, but I’ve played with now NHL stars Matt [Tkatchuk] and Mitch [Marner] when I was in London [Knights, OHL], so I know how these guys play,” he said, before continuing on to say how it will still be a big adjustment from what he has been used to in U Sports for the past few years.

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Brendan Burke (left) alongside Toronto Maple Leafs superstar Mitch Marner (Second in from left)

Being named to the team also shows a change in philosophy from Hockey Canada’s perspective in the way they approach the Spengler Cup. For the last two years, the association has only named two goalies to the roster. While one would expect that this would be fine when playing a weeklong tournament, it was not in 2018- when the team fell to relying on a single goaltender for the last two games of the tournament.

This year, they’ve learned their lesson, naming Burke as the third goalie.

“Of course, it was always a possibility, with the connections with my dad and their need for a third goalie,” he said, but it is still something that is surreal for the University of Alberta’s goaltender. He was never invited to any of the Canadian selection camps when he was eligible for junior, so the 24-year-old figured his chances to wear the maple leaf had evaporated. Although this is his first taste of Candian red, he was invited to try out for American junior teams in the past. Being born in Scottsdale, Arizona, he has dual citizenship- something that has proven valuable throughout his young hockey career.

Playing for the Canadian crest will be far more significant for Burke than his experience in the stars and stripes, saying, “My dad played for Canada and has been with the association for a long time, so it just seems right- it means a lot.” Father Sean Burke, who is now the GM of the national team was Canada’s goalie in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games. The passion for goaltending was instilled in early childhood for Brendan, who is now following in his father’s footsteps, suiting up for Team Canada.

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Brendan’s father Sean played for Canada multiple times, also as a goaltender (Canadian Olympic Archives)

While being named to the national team is an achievement of itself, there is no guarantee that he will see game time at any point in the tournament. “I’m going over there in a professional mindset and am going to prepare for every game like I’m going to play,” he said, before going on to explain how it is just a waiting and learning experience to see whether he gets any game time.

Having game time or not, the Spengler cup is offering him a launching pad for the potential of a professional hockey career. “I’m in my last year here at U of A, so I’m looking at what do do next year, hopefully playing somewhere,” the Golden Bear’s goaltender said. When asked about where he could potentially play, he listed the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) as a high probability. “ they scout us and the level is something I would be ready to step up to.” With AHL and ECHL teams potentially watching the Spenger Cup, playing time could prove very valuable for Burke.

Representing Canadian University Sports on the big stage is something that is very important to burke and he does not wish to disappoint anyone who may watch his performance. The experience he will gain at the Spengler Cup and the lessons he will learn being around NHL veterans.

The Canadians hit the ice for the first time on Thursday, taking on Hockey Club Ocelari Trinec in Davos, Switzerland.

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