Spengler Cup a hockey nerd’s dream for Brendan Burke

Alberta netminder talks international experience, adding to already-impressive resume

Brendan Burke mans the blue paint for the University of Alberta Golden Bears

Usually when you make a deal with your dad, it involves chores or good grades. For University of Alberta Golden Bears goalie Brendan Burke, it meant something so much more.

It meant he got to play for Canada.

Burke was invited to play for Team Canada during the 2019 Spengler Cup. The tournament features club teams invited from various professional leagues playing against the host, HC Davos, as well as Team Canada who appear in the tournament every year.

His road to the tournament started with a conversation with his father.

“He said if I got off to a good start this could be an opportunity for me this year, and luckily the team got off to a good start and I’ve been playing well,” Burke said.

“A couple weeks before the tournament, when the roster was shaping up, they gave me the call [to] let me know I’d be there as a third this year.”

Burke — the son of Sean Burke, a former NHL goaltender who is now the general manager of Team Canada for the Spengler Cup — was tapped by his dad to join the Canadian squad for the 2019 tournament.

Team Canada secured a gold medal the U of C goalie can add to an already stacked mantel.

Burke is already a Western Hockey League champion, Ontario Hockey League champion and Memorial Cup champion, and he can now add Spengler Cup champion to that list.

Burke is far from the only U Sports talent his father has taken to the Spengler Cup. As the netminder explained, it’s become a perfect place for his father and the rest of the Canadian brain-trust to pluck third-string goalies for the opportunity of a lifetime.

“With my father being involved the last four years, he’s taken a [U Sports] goalie in the past to be a third,” Burke said.

“He kind of looks at it as the perfect league to take a third guy from, so […] it’s probably the highest league that you could get a guy to go. If you’re playing pro in North America, you’re not going to go spend your Christmas in Switzerland to most likely not dress.”

For Burke, the chance to rub shoulders with professionals and wear the maple leaf was too great to pass up.

“It’s a hard-core hockey fan’s tournament — especially if you’re not living in Europe,” he said.

“It’s obviously a little more accessible and popular over there, but if you’re from North America and you’re a hard-core hockey fan it’s just one of those tournaments you’ve got to follow.”

The Spengler Cup began in 1923 and is a major bucket list item for most major hockey fanatics, played in the historic Vaillant Arena.

“If you’re a fan of hockey, especially being hard core, it’s one of the tournaments of the year,” Burke said.

“And to be a part of it — being the hockey nerd that I kind of am — I was just thrilled and super appreciative that I got to go.”

Team Canada was stacked from top to bottom for the 2019 tournament, with former NHL players lined up next to career European pros. For Burke, there were also a few personal connections among the sea of new faces.

“There were some guys in the room I’d played against, played with — Adam Tambellini is a guy that I played with so I was excited to see him,” Burke said.

“Good friend of mine, glad to see he made the team.

“It was great, lot of […] older players I never played with but even that I watched in the NHL like Dan Winnick, Scottie Upshall — they both played in Arizona when I was growing up, and being a kid in Arizona I was big Coyotes fan. Those are guys I looked up to.

“Getting the opportunity to play with them was once in a lifetime.”

Born in Scottsdale, Ariz., Burke also got to see his father don a Coyotes sweater.

The elder Burke had a stint with the Coyotes from the 1999-00 season to the 2003-04 season.

The Spengler Cup trip was not just personal glory, seeing old friends and crossing something off his bucket list — for Burke it was also a learning experience, and he’s taking plenty of lessons back to Alberta with him.

“I can’t pinpoint one thing that I’m going to take,” he said.

“Any time you get to practice with guys from a higher level, be surrounded by coaches who’ve coached in the National Hockey League or played in the National Hockey League […] you’re always going to improve.”

The U of A currently sits first in Canada West, and with Burke’s international experience the club is poised for a return to the national championship.

“Hopefully I can take some of their skills and things that I picked up into our league,” Burke said.

“Being around people like that can only help going back to university hockey.”