In the historical sense of the word, there is something very heroic about Alex Burrows. And I’m not just thinking about the narrative of his career, though this too borders on the epic. From riding buses as an undrafted player in the ECHL, to grinding it out on the Manitoba Moose (while spending the summers playing ball hockey), to splitting a season between the Canucks and the Moose, to playing a full season for the Canucks but predominantly as a penalty killer and agitator, to playing an effective and passionate third-line role, to (at age 29 nonetheless) one of the more dangerous and multifaceted players in the NHL – this is certainly a story of struggle and transcendence that should not escape our notice and admiration.
But there is even more to it than this.
The seminal hero in our Western tradition is Odysseus, from Homer’s Odyssey.
Odysseus is a hero, not just because of his long journey home following the defeat of Troy, but because he is the paragon of a crafty, wily, and resourceful person. No matter what situation or form of adversity he is confronted with, he finds a way to overcome it, to succeed. He is an insuperable character because he creates and puts into action the tools necessary to adapt, and adapt well.
There is a streak of Odysseus in Burrows.
Let me just rattle off the various know-how and skills he is able to bring to the game. Asked to kill penalties, even 5 on 3, and he does it well. Ordered to forecheck and he does it effectively and relentlessly. To block shots – he does it correctly and at the right times. He can wreak havoc in front of the opposing net. Deflect shots. Play the power-play. Create a cycle. Pass the puck. Score on breakaways. Shoot in tight. He wholeheartedly buys into the team concept, and so sees himself as a mere part belonging to a larger whole. And so on and so on. If called on, if the circumstances demand it, Burrows can just about be anyone and just about do everything.
The name Odysseus in Greek means ‘he who causes pain or makes others angry’. Opposing teams today might think something similar about Burrows.