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

“Holy Motormouth, 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. Beautiful noise. He had to find it. 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 the baby upstairs. Into the crib. Kiss goodnight.

Five minutes later, he was back.

“Shawn, what are you doing out again?”

Up the stairs. Into the crib.

Five minutes later, he was back.

This went on. And on. “I just wanted to be where all the action was,” Shawn Burr recalls, laughing. “After a while, my folks put a lid on 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 game, you must also appreciate his love of voices and 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. 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. Hyuk-hyuk-hyuk. Get it?

Oh. Yes. About that laugh. It’s kind of like a hyena, all high-pitched and scratchy. But it’s . . . well . . . the word I keep coming back to is charming. You hesitate to use that word with a hockey player — his teammates will tease him unmercifully — but, sorry, it’s the best word I know for Shawn 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 photo with a border guard — then stuck
“the bunny ears fingers” behind his head.

It is also true that, as of Tuesday, Burr was second in the NHL in game-winning goals, had as many assists as Steve Yzerman and trailed only Yzerman in Red Wings total points. 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 use him 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 use him with a minute to go and no commercials left. Give Shawn 60 seconds, he’ll give you a nightclub act.

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

Ask about injuries in the NHL. “It’s rough. Unless the bone is sticking out from the skin, you better keep skating.”

Now ask him about silence. Here’s a subject that makes him uncomfortable. The child of a former Canadian football player, and the product of a loquacious family — for whom Christmas and Thanksgiving mean 10 relatives all talking at once — Burr is admittedly spooked in quiet rooms. He gets itchy. When he comes home to an empty house, he automatically flicks on the TV. Or talks to his dog. His dog?

“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!’ “

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

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

You know what? He usually does. Although teammate Joe Kocur says, “Shawn talks enough for the both of us,” Burr remains one of the most insightful guys on the Red Wings. He watches the news. He takes correspondence college classes. He has a refreshingly pure attitude, almost childish at times. 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 toward 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 burst in, yelling, “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. He has dehydration problems, and he plays so hard, he can drop pounds every period. His weight fluctuates from 185 to 200. Once, playing with the flu, he lost 12 pounds in a single game. The sweat comes like rainwater.

So, sometimes, 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.”

Lately, the team has been the greater benefactor. Against Chicago Oct. 16, Burr took a pass from Carson, skated between two defensemen and whipped the winning shot past goalie Ed Belfour. Four days before, he took Yzerman’s pass and beat goalie Kay Whitmore for the clincher against Hartford. “I like being out there for the last minutes,’ Burr says.

This is confidence, of course, new confidence, inflated by two things: 1) Murray’s decision to let Burr play with a top- notch line, Carson and Bob Probert. 2) The World Championships last spring. Burr was summoned to Europe in March to play for Team Canada. (“I was shocked. I thought they’d send me home as soon as the real talent got there.”) Instead, he stayed the whole tournament. He played well. He skated alongside the best players in the NHL and realized he wasn’t so far behind them. So he worked like a madman this summer. And now it’s paying off.

Which doesn’t mean he’s talking less. He still teases his teammates. And they still laugh and shake their heads. “Some of them think I say stupid things, but that’s just me. I tried for a while to be quiet. I couldn’t do it.

“It’s like my body. Or my voice. I can’t change it. But I wouldn’t if I could. I believe you accept everybody for what they are.

“Besides, if everyone had a deep voice and a muscular build, the world would be pretty boring.”

Holy Motormouth, Batman — he’s a philosopher, too! Ah well. It’s a perfect end to the story. In a lot of ways, Shawn Burr is still the same boy who crawled out of his crib 22 years ago, looking for the noise. Only now he makes it. You know what? I like the results. If talk-talk-talk be the price of success, well, pump up the volume. WBUR is on the air. Dogs and fish, are you listening?


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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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