OTTAWA – The family hit the open roads once again, an entire continent free for exploration, an empty summer schedule begging to be filled.
No, the grand adventures of William Brent Burns did not end after the Stanley Cup Final’s gut-slugging Game 6, when the Pittsburgh Penguins littered San Jose’s SAP Center in celebration and their hosts watched to the side. In fact, that night’s 3-1 loss merely marked the start of another chapter.
Two days later, the Burnses – Brent and his mother, wife Susan and her father, daughter Peyton, son Jagger, and huskies Maia and Zeus – loaded into their new 44 1/2-foot RV, complete with a full kitchen, shower and a flat-screen television built into the passenger's side exterior. Last summer they had driven a similar route, albeit in a smaller Sprinter van absent such amenities. This new model made for a far cozier, swankier ride. "It was awesome," Burns said this week, sitting at his locker after Team Canada's first practice for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. "But it takes time to settle in. You break a bunch of stuff and figure it out. We kind of did the same thing. And they told us when you buy it, it's a move-in house, so s--- is gonna go wrong."
At times, s--- indeed go wrong. "Closet rods came down, TVs broke, all kinds of stuff," Burns said. “It's like a house hitting potholes at 75 miles an hour." But these were issues easily remedied, small potatoes compared to the scenic feast they enjoyed over the next two months. First they drove from San Jose to Las Vegas, where Burns finished third in Norris Trophy voting. They hit the Grand Canyon next, and then pointed south toward New Mexico, and then east into Texas, near where Susan was raised outside Houston.
Now 31 years old and 797 games deep into his NHL career, Burns' off-season training regimen has adopted the same bohemian attitude his personality and image suggest. In Texas, he ran stairs at the local high school football stadium and skated at the Aerodrome Ice Complex, where he once practiced while on the AHL's Houston Aeros. At truck stops, he'd take off for late-night runs with Maia and Zeus. At campsites, he'd use the picnic tables as a weight rack for circuit training. Any body of water would suffice for a swim. He visited MMA star Conor McGregor's training camp in Sin City and trained at a jiu-jitsu dojo in San Jose.
"Not everybody could do it," Burns says. "If I'm not in good shape, it's no one's fault but mine. I couldn't have done it when I was younger, for sure. [Sharks strength coach Mike Potenza] has been really good for me, making different workouts, building upon what I like on the road. I'm not a big heavy weight guy. Even when I come back and he's got heavy weights, he puts me to the side and does a different thing. It's been great. It's been really good. You adapt. You've got to enjoy it."
And who enjoys life more than Burns? "That's the personality he has"” says Canadian teammate and fellow Ontario native Steven Stamkos, who last month found himself wondering why Burns was asking about the size of his driveway, until the RV swung in to spend the night. "Guys love him."
Like his powerful skating strides, Burns zips through the summer memories at a dizzying pace. After Texas they visited two sets of friends in Michigan. Stopped at San Jose teammate Logan Couture's house in London, Ontario. Headed to see Burns' family in Barrie outside Toronto and…best let Burns take it from here:
"Then we went to Montreal, then back to Toronto, then back to Michigan, then surprised [Sharks captain Joe] Pavelski at his house at the lake, took the kids out water surfing, then we went to Minnesota, saw a lot of old friends from when I played there [with the Wild from 2005-11], just quick. Showed the kids where they were born. They'd never been back to Minnesota, so that was fun.
"Then continued on to Colorado, spent some time in Denver, saw an outdoor company that I like, checked their place out. Went to Vail and Eagle, Colorado, then spent some days in the Rockies, biking, exploring a little bit, unbelievable there. Then we went to Utah, spent a couple nights in Green River, close to the Arches, the National Park there. Then we went back through Vegas and got home for the kids to go to school.
"That was the great thing about the rig -- we didn't have to worry about anything. We saw Billy the Kid's gravesite driving through the smallest little town I've ever been in. We stopped and spent four hours there. I love dragons, so we were driving through Utah and saw Black Dragon Canyon Trail. There were some native artists there with handmade native bows and arrows and tomahawks, so just luck of the draw. Peyton and Sus ended up getting handmade necklaces and bracelets, and me and Jaggy walked way with a bow and arrow and a tomahawk.
"We stopped at all the little diners, little s---holes. This Freddy Flintstone diner [in Arizona], probably the worst food I've ever come across. Kids love it. They get their ice cream and they're happy. They'll probably remember when we stopped at the Grand Canyon and saw a big female elk in a parking lot. They're going to remember that, not the Grand Canyon. Little things like that. We stop at [Black Dragon Canyon Trail], these beautiful rock formations. They're going to remember getting the native art. Those are the really cool experiences. That's what's important for them, I think.
"Crazy things like that you've got to take advantage of."
Forever both an opportunist and an optimist, Burns has blossomed into one of the NHL's best defensemen, leading all blueliners with 27 goals in 2015-16 and helping San Jose to the franchise's first Cup Final appearance. For these reasons, he reflects on the Sharks' run not with remorse but enthusiasm. After all, he showed enough to make the final roster for Team Canada, figuring to earn time on the second power play and start on its third pairing beside St. Louis's Alex Pietrangelo. After all, San Jose returns the bulk of its lineup next season, potentially even stronger with off-season additions of forward Mikkel Boedker and defenseman David Schlemko.
"I wouldn't trade it for anything," he says. "I've played 14 years and hadn't gotten a sniff of getting to four rounds, so to play four rounds, put your body through that, with the group of guys we had, it was awesome. It was an amazing experience.
"You hope it comes back next year, but you realize how hard it is, how hard you have to work, how hard the team's got to work, how much luck you have to have with health, your power play, your penalty kill, goalie getting hot. There are so many things that go into it that you can't control. You just have to enjoy it."
After all, why look back when so much more is up ahead?