OFSAA Brian Burke Headlines Rugby Banquet

June 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Provincial and Territorial News

brian-burkeBy Larry Moko
With only two days remaining before the start of the 2014 Stanley Cup final series, one of the most high-profile executives in the National Hockey League came to Hamilton to sing the praises of girls’ high school rugby.

Brian Burke, best known locally for having served as president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2008-13, was guest speaker at the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations girls’ Quad A/Triple A rugby banquet at Carmen’s on Monday.

“This is the best-looking group I’ve ever addressed in my life,” Burke said to the crowd of almost 600, made up mostly of formally-dressed female student/athletes from 16 schools across Ontario.

The OFSAA tournament began Monday with games running until Wednesday’s gold-medal match at 3 p.m. at Mohawk Sports Complex.

“This is an amazing tournament,” Burke said. “Especially when you consider the growth of girls’ rugby in the past two or three years in Ontario. It’s wonderful to see a room like this packed with athletes, coaches and officials. Congratulations to everybody.”

In addition to his impressive and lengthy career with numerous clubs the NHL – he currently oversees hockey operations for the Calgary Flames – Burke has a passion for the sport of rugby. Last year, he was named to Rugby Canada’s board of directors.

“I’m fond of saying rugby is my second favourite sport,” Burke told the gathering. “I think it’s the purest team sport that there is. You have to master team work. You have to master speed and ball handling. And you’ve got to do it in a setting of a contact sport which requires you to test your courage every time you go on the field.

“So I think there is something special about rugby players. I admire them. I love the camaraderie after the match. Looking at how hard the game is to play, you should be proud of yourselves.”

Burke, 58, said he’s actually going to suit up for an Oldboys rugby match in less than two weeks.
“It’s probably a big mistake,” he added.

Burke’s interest in rugby began when he was a 23-year-old law student, soon after he retired from playing professional hockey. “I went back to school,” he said. “I was walking by the Harvard Business School one day. I said ‘what team is this?’ They said ‘it’s Harvard Business School but it’s open to any graduate attending Harvard.’ I said ‘do you mind if I play?’”

According to Burke, he started out with the C squad – lowest of three — but moved up to the B team a week after making his presence felt on the pitch. His position was tight head prop.

“They told me on the kickoff just to go and hit whoever catches the ball. Which I did. That was the end of the afternoon for the player that I hit.”

Burke played five years for Harvard Business School.

A Stanley Cup champion as GM of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 2007, Burke told the OFSAA rugby players that they can be star athletes as well as stars in the classroom. Said Burke: “There’s no reason you have to sacrifice academics to be an athlete. It’s all a question of time management and discipline.

“When we look at people who apply for jobs with the Calgary Flames, the first thing we look at is their grades. It’s the simplest test where I can see if they’re committed to excellence.”

A graduate of Providence College, Burke said the OFSAA players should recognize the fact that they are role models in high school.

“You can do a lot of good as a high school athlete,” he said. “You can help to stop bullying and you can make people feel good about themselves. It’s very important to act the right way.”

Burke also stressed the importance for the player to be active in community service work.

The St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves are representing the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association at the OFSAA tournament. And Cathedral’s Duane Davis and John Pataracchia are serving as co-convenors.

Comments are closed.