As a sports writer, I have raised many important questions about hockey over the years, such as where do players put their teeth during a game?

Also, what if an athlete owned a team?

I now have the answer. Not to the teeth thing. I assume the answer to that is, “Ugh, gross, who cares?” But to the owner thing. I have the answer. Because I am now looking at one of the newest hockey owners in Detroit, assuming Mike Ilitch hasn’t bought anything in the last few hours.

This new owner actually plays for Ilitch. He has short, whitish blond hair, a memory for really stupid jokes, and a voice that began to crack during puberty, then apparently changed its mind.

I remember when they called him “Skippy.”

I believe it was last week.

Shawn Burr.

He owns a hockey team.

It’s true. Burr is the boss. Not him alone. His co-bosses include fellow Red Wing Dino Ciccarelli, and Dino’s brothers, Rob and Larry, who are actually the majority owners. Together, these four now possess (ta da!) the Sarnia Sting, which, contrary to popular opinion, is not a drink made with rum and lemon juice.

The Sarnia Sting is a junior team in the Ontario Hockey League that the Ciccarellis and Burr recently purchased, with their own money, in hopes of developing, promoting and, in some ways, using as a release.

Can you imagine a discussion now between Burr and Ciccarelli?

“Man, I’m tired.”

“Yeah. Practice was really rough.”

“Let’s go home and fire somebody.”

“Good idea.” Around the horns

Now. The idea was really the Ciccarellis’. They bought an existing team
(the Newmarket Saints) and are moving it to Sarnia, Ontario. And because Burr owns only 10 percent, I am tempted to call him a silent partner.

Then again, calling Shawn Burr “silent” is like calling Michael Jackson
“normal.”

“We had a press conference last week, about 200 people came, it was great!” he gushes. “This is really big in Sarnia. We revealed our new logo: a bee with a stick in his hand.”

Did you design that?

“No.”

Do you and Dino have your own offices?

“I don’t think so.”

Will you cut players?

“Me? They’d probably beat me up.”

Well. Clearly owning a junior club is not the same as owning the Red Wings. Then again, how many players can say they’re going to the NHL playoffs
— right after they check their team payroll?

Burr and Ciccarelli can. They may have purchased their team on emotion — both grew up in Sarnia, and learned hockey in the building the Sting will play in — but they will soon learn the pressures of ownership, such as contract negotiations, and, of course, concessions.

They do have concessions, don’t they?

“Oh, yeah,” Burr says. “That’s something I really want to get involved with. Do you know that in Anaheim they sell 2,000 duck horns a game, for $10 apiece? That’s $20,000 a night, times 40 nights. That’s $800,000 — from duck horns!”

I didn’t know that.

“I’m hoping we can get a horn that sounds like a bee. Then we can sell ’em at our games.”

A bee horn? Two players, two teams

Well, such is the complicated life of a player-owner. I must say it sounds a little funny, a sports franchise owned by guys named Shawn and Dino. I can see “Shawn and Dino’s Hardware” or “Shawn and Dino’s Auto Parts.” Maybe “Shawn and Dino’s All Night Bowling Alley and Fun Palace.”

But Shawn and Dino’s Hockey Team?

Well. It’s true. And, in fact, it’s kind of nice. They each invested a nice chunk of change to bring their favorite sport back to their hometown. Ciccarelli says, “It will give us something when our careers are over.”

He also admits that Burr is better with the vocal duties. “He owns 10 percent, but does 90 percent of the talking. I think we’ll send him to the city council meetings.”

Of course, for the moment, both players have more important tasks at hand. Like getting hot for the playoffs. Or just staying healthy. In Tuesday night’s 3-1 victory over Chicago, for example, Ciccarelli was tripped on a breakaway, and landed on his head.

“It’s killing me,” he said after the game. “Right now, I’m seeing stars.”

Uh-oh. Keep him away from the checkbook.

How odd. Two players, two owners. They must listen to one coach, and can fire another. They ride a team plane — and own a team bus.

It’s a neat little story, and you wish the Ciccarellis, Burr and the Sarnia Sting a lot of luck in their new partnership. Although ownership definitely changes things.

“I go across the bridge now,” Burr says, “and, as usual, everyone asks me,
‘How’s the team gonna do this year?’ “

And?

“And now I have to say, ‘Which one?’ ”

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