From the very start, Burke was widely heralded as a star-in-the-making, from single-handedly leading Canada to a silver medal at the 1986 World Juniors to helping an amateur-led Canada to 4th place at the 1988 Calgary Olympics behind professional-laden teams USSR (Soviet Union), Finland and Sweden. He then went on to play 11 games with the New Jersey Devils, lead them to the playoffs for the first time, beat powerhouses New York Islanders and Washington Capitals in the first two rounds of the playoffs only to lose to the Boston Bruins in 7 games in the Prince-Of-Wales Conference finals.The following season, while still qualifying as a rookie, he was invited to the All Star Game - the first ever rookie goalie to do so.
During this time - the first Olympics I watched from end to end, my budding passion for the sport both as a fan and a goaltender - my idol was Patrick Roy, like most kids my age. But because Roy was widely recognized as the best goalie in the world at that time, he was unattainable for kids like me; even waiting in line at events to get an autograph of Roy seemed impossible, because he attracted crowds so big the odds were so massively against it happening. At that time, Olympic hero Burke graced the cover of Hockey Today, which Hockey Canada gave all of the players in my area for free, for some reason:
And while my butterfly style was very Roy-inspired, my physical stature was promising to near that of Burke, who stood at 6'4'' and weighed in over 200 pounds (usually close to 210). And it seemed Burke was cited more often as a spokesperson for Hockey Canada than Roy, which made him closer to us kids than Roy, despite his playing in the U.S.
Another thing that made Burke ''realer'' than Roy was that Roy had his pads tailor-made by the Habs' trainer, who made his own, ''house'' brand Lefebvre, so kids who weren't rich could never wear the same equipment as his; Burke was all about Brian's, and so was I.
So I sent Burke a long, heart-felt fan letter and the 6 following cards on March 5th, 2012, and got all of them back, signed in blue sharpie, on Friday the 13th (of April, 2012) - with half of them personalized ''To Sebastian''; he even signed one of the index cards I sent in for protection, personalizing it, and adding me ''Best Wishes'', which may have made my year:
(continued in the next post)