by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

“Holy Motormouths, Batman!”

Jimmy Carson, when asked to describe Shawn Burr

He was 2 years old when he first heard the voices. They came from downstairs. Laughing. Talking. All these wonderful sounds. He had to join them. He pulled himself over his crib and wandered down the steps.

“Shawn, what are you doing down here?” his parents said. They laughed and apologized to their guests. They carried their baby upstairs. In the crib. Kiss goodnight.

Five minutes later, he was back.

“Shawn, what are you doing out again?”

Another apology. Return to the crib. Kiss goodnight.

Five minutes later, he was back.

This went on. And on. And on. “I just wanted to be where all the noise was,” Shawn Burr recalls, laughing, “After a while, my folks put a lid on top of my crib. So I stayed put.”

Today, there are still people who would like to put a lid on Shawn Burr. Maybe even a few of his teammates. But what do they know? To appreciate this suddenly excellent hockey player, you must not only appreciate his drive on the ice, his indefatigable spirit, or the fact that he can lose 12 pounds in a single night’s worth of sweat, you must also appreciate the love of voices, the fine art of conversation, of which Burr, 24, is a master.

But then, he’s had a lot of practice. From the crib to elementary school to junior hockey to the NHL, no one has ever had to say, “Hey, Shawn, what’s on your mind?” You’ll know what’s on his mind. Believe me. If this guy were a radio station, he’d be WBUR, 24-Hour Talk. Shawn knows a joke? The whole room knows the joke. Shawn has an imitation? The whole room hears the imitation. Of course, you think I’m exaggerating. Well. OK. Shawn doesn’t really talk all the time. Only when he’s awake.

“Yeah, I stayed up one night to see if I talked in my sleep, but I didn’t.” He laughs. Nyuk-nyuk-nyuk. Get it?

Oh. Yes. About that laugh. Its kind of like a hyena, all high-pitched and scratchy. But it’s cute. It’s . . . well . . . the word I keep coming back to is charming. You hesitate to use that word with a hockey player, but it’s the right word for Burr.

He really is charming.

He also has all his own teeth.

SHAWN BURR ON HIS ATHLETIC BUILD: “I have the perfect body . . . for a mailman.”

ON HIS FEMALE FANS: “I usually attract the 15-year-olds who weigh 230 pounds. They come up wearing my sweater.”

ON HIS VOICE: “Sometimes I watch myself talking on TV, and I can’t believe I sound like that. It’s like one of the Muppets is behind me, lip-syncing.”

Here, hockey fans, is a real rarity, the perfect blend of childhood innocence and NHL skill. It is true, for example, that Burr will watch cartoons on the road with his roommate, Sergei Fedorov. (“Sergei likes the Ninja Turtles. He doesn’t understand the other shows.”) It is true that Burr went to West Berlin and posed for a picture with a border guard — then stuck two fingers behind his head. It is true Burr once dyed his hair red and white, in strips, which made him look like a brick of cherry-vanilla ice cream.

It is also true that Burr has as many assists as Steve Yzerman (9) and is tied for second on the Red Wings in total points with Jimmy Carson (15). He is off to his best start ever, and has become a force to be reckoned with on this Detroit team. “Shawn is beyond a role player now,” says his coach, Bryan Murray. “He has a chance to be a great NHL talent. He can be a 30-goal scorer. And he plays both ends real well. I can put him in with a minute to go and us up by a goal, or with a minute to go and us down by a goal.”

He can also put him in with a minute to go and no commercials left. Give Shawn 60 seconds, he’ll give you a nightclub act.

Example. Ask Shawn about women reporters in the locker room. “I have a simple solution. We all take our clothes off.”

Ask him about injuries in the NHL. “It’s a rough league. Unless the bone is sticking out from the skin, you better go out for your shift.”

Then ask him about silence. Now here’s a subject that makes him uncomfortable. The child of a loquacious family, whose Christmases and Thanksgivings were always 10 relatives talking at once, Burr is admittedly antsy in quiet rooms. When he comes home to an empty house, he flicks on the TV set. Automatic. Or he talks to his dog. Or himself.

“It’s like fishing, right? I like to go fishing. But I don’t like to go alone. It’s too quiet. I start talking to the fish. I say, ‘Come on. I know you’re down there. Come on. Bite!’ “

I ask the obvious. “Why do you like talking so much?”

He shrugs and laughs. “I don’t know. I feel like I usually have something to say.”

And you know what? He usually does. For all his goofy jokes, Burr is one of the more thoughtful, inquisitive and genuinely nice guys in hockey. He has a refreshingly pure attitude towards things. It’s almost childish. Good is good. Bad is bad. People are pretty much OK, unless proven otherwise.

Not surprisingly, he adores kids — he plays with them, makes conversation, goes to watch their hockey games — and they gravitate towards him, perhaps because, with his blond crew cut and unwhiskered cheeks, he looks

like a fourth-grader who just ran home from school. You half-expect him to yell, “MA! MA! GUESS WHAT I FOUND!”

A few years ago, Burr’s teammates were trying to get his attention on the bus. He deliberately ignored them because “I thought they were gonna throw a peanut at me.” Finally, Adam Oates yelled, “Hey, SKIPPY!”

Burr turned, just for an instant. “I’ve been stuck with that nickname ever since,” he moans.


SHAWN BURR ON ALCOHOL: “I don’t get hangovers, because I can’t drink enough to get a hangover.”

ON WHAT HE WOULD DO IF HE WEREN’T A HOCKEY PLAYER: “Hmmm. Probably sit around and wish I was a hockey player.”

ON HIS HALLOWEEN PLANS: “My wife and I are going out, so I’ll just leave a big bucket of chocolate bars on the porch and let the kids work on the honor system. I think it’ll be OK. Unless some big fat kid comes along and eats them all.”

Did you know this about Shawn Burr? He sometimes needs intravenous fluids after games. Goes to the hospital. Takes a needle in his hand. For some reason, he has problems with dehydration, says he can lose up to 12 pounds in a single game. His weight fluctuates from 185 to 200 throughout the week. The sweat comes down like rainwater.

So do the tears. I have seen Burr cry on several occasions, after tough losses. He is not ashamed of this. “He gives you everything emotionally,” Murray says. “He is one guy who truly cares about the team first, himself second.”

Here’s another thing you didn’t know about Burr. He now works out with weights. You might not guess it from that body — which he laughingly describes as a “muscular pop bottle” — but he got involved in an off-season conditioning program this summer. Murray, on his first day of work, came to the arena and found Burr lifting. “Are you sure you’re in the right place?” the coach asked.

He is. In fact, he has never been so right. Maybe it was the coaching change from Jacques Demers to Murray. Maybe it was the chance to play on an excellent line (Jimmy Carson and Bob Probert) right from the start.

“If I could trade myself in, I wouldn’t come back any differently,” he says.

“They see me, and they see a guy who talks a lot, who wasn’t blessed with a great body, who has a high voice, but they should just accept it.

Well put. And on he goes, his best season yet. In a lot of ways, Shawn Burr is still the boy that crawled out of his crib 22 years ago, looking for the noise. Only now he makes it, himself. You know what? I like it. If talk-talk-talk be the price of success, well, pump up the volume. WBUR is on the air. The broadcast is charming.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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