Moments after the Montreal Canadiens won Game 6 over the Vegas Golden Knights and moved on to the Stanley Cup Final, “Burrows” was trending Canada-wide on Twitter.
That wasn’t because of fans of the Canadiens; it was fans of the Vancouver Canucks.
For fans of the Canucks, cheering for any other Canadian team can be a bit of a tough sell. After all, many have memories of 2011, when the Canucks were vilified by the national media and labeled the NHL’s most-hated team. The New York Times even ran a headline that said, “Some Fans in Canada See Vancouver as Foreign.”
No one was calling the Canucks “Canada’s Team” then, so why should Canucks fans get behind any other Canadian team now?
There’s just one player — or rather, former player — that could possibly melt that ice: Alex Burrows.
"Obviously, there's only one thing missing."
Burrows is one of the most beloved players in Canucks history for many reasons. His is the ultimate underdog story — working his way up from ball hockey stardom and the ECHL to the best line in the NHL. He was the key to unlocking the Sedins’ true potential, playing on their line as they won Art Ross, Ted Lindsay, and Hart trophies.
More than anything else, Burrows was clutch. He scored the goal that “slayed the dragon” to get the Canucks past the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011. In the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, he came through with the last truly great Canucks moment in that playoff run, scoring the overtime game-winning goal in Game 2.
The only thing missing from Burrows’ story is the big finish. Burrows never got to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup as a player with the Canucks.
Now he has a chance to win the Cup as a coach with the Canadiens.
“Obviously, there’s only one thing missing,” said Burrows as he reflected on his career back in March. “If I can do it as a coach, I’ll be extremely happy. I’m still chasing that dream.”
"That excitement and enthusiasm that he brings is contagious."
Burrows joined the Canadiens’ coaching staff mid-season when head coach Claude Julien and assistant coach Kirk Muller were fired. While only in his third season as assistant coach with the Laval Rocket, the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate, Burrows had already established himself as a bright mind with an eye for detail.
He immediately made an impact for the Canadiens, particularly on the power play, which is ironic given he had limited minutes on the power play as a player with the Canucks.
“The first meeting we had in Winnipeg going over the power play, it kind of took everybody by surprise with the energy and enthusiasm he had,” said Canadiens’ defenceman Jeff Petrry. “He's brought a new style to our power play and he's really focused on making sure that we're executing, not only in games, but in practice.
“That excitement and enthusiasm that he brings is contagious. There's nothing that he hasn't covered. We have plays that we're running off the O-zone draws to our breakouts to our puck retrievals. He's really hammering home the basic things that we need to do to get us prepared to go out and execute.”
Burrows’ role as a coach expanded even more in the playoffs when head coach Dominique Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19 forcing him to isolate for 14 days. Burrows’ fellow assistant coach Luke Richardson took the head-coaching reins with Ducharme out, but Burrows also has added responsibilities with the head coach missing.
In fact, he's the one running the Canadiens' practices.
Watching the Canadiens play, it’s not hard to see Burrows’ influence. They play a frustrating, smothering style, the type of two-way hockey that Burrows excelled at as a player. The penalty kill has been absurdly good, not allowing a goal in their last 13 games.
In fact, they’ve outscored their opposition while on the penalty kill in the playoffs — they have four shorthanded goals and have allowed just three power play goals.
Canucks fans are eager to see Burrows win the Cup
Now Burrows and the Canadiens are heading to the Stanley Cup Final, 10 years after Burrows’ last trip with the Canucks in 2011. They’ll face the winner of the series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders. Many Canucks fans are pulling for Burrows.
There are other reasons for Canucks fans to cheer for the Canadiens than Burrows. Shea Weber, Carey Price, and Brendan Gallagher are all from BC; Tyler Toffoli provides some schadenfreude for Canucks fans who don’t like Jim Benning; for fans who do like Benning, the Canadiens provide some hope for the “get into the playoffs and see what happens” strategy.
But nothing compares to the possibility of seeing Burrows finally lift the Stanley Cup.