VANCOUVER – It doesn’t bother Alex Burrows that he might not have many friends outside the Vancouver Canucks’ dressing room.
The feisty Canuck forward plays hockey like a terrier chasing a ball. He crashes and bangs. He’ll whack you on the ankle with his stick, then fill your ear with trash talk, in both official languages. Suffice to say he has a low approval rating among other players in the league, which is just fine with Burrows.
“I think it’s good,” he said with a grin Tuesday. “I have enough friends back home. I have enough friends in this locker room.
“I don’t need any more friends in the league. If they are mad at me or rattled, that’s all right with me.”
Burrows plays with centre Ryan Kesler on the Canucks top checking line. He’s usually on the ice against the opposition’s best forwards and helps kill penalties.
The six-foot-one, 190-pound forward plays a physical game. He can throw a big hit and doesn’t back down when he’s challenged. His mouth can move as much as his feet, which means he can add insult to injury some nights.
Kesler, Burrows’ best friend on the Canucks, smiled when asked about his linemate.
“It’s just the way he chirps on the ice,” said Kesler. “He gets under their skin. It’s just his style of play. Sometimes you have to have a little chuckle on the ice when you watch him.
“He a guy that plays a hard, in-your-face kind of style. Most guys in this league don’t like to be played hard and he’s one of the best at it.”
Burrows came up through the ranks the hard way. He wasn’t drafted coming out of junior and spent time bouncing around the ECHL and American Hockey League before being signed as a free agent by the Canucks in 2005.
“I had to adjust my game to become an NHL player,” said the 26-year-old from Pincourt, Que. “When I was in the minors, that’s what I had to do, get under people’s skin and bring a physical aspect.
“I tried to create some energy on the forecheck, chip in what ever way I could to help the team. That’s how I made it to the NHL and that’s why I’m still in the league right now.”
Grinding is what Burrows does best, but he’s been on a recent scoring streak. He’s notched two goals in the last three games, including the winner against Atlanta last week. This comes after a stretch of one goal in 26 games.
“I like to score goals, I like to hit guys,” said Burrows, who has seven goals and a NHL career high 19 points in 57 games this year. “The most important thing is to get the two points.”
For coach Alain Vigneault the play of Burrows has been a bright spot on Canuck team that has just three wins in their last 12 games and is ninth in the Western Conference.
“He’s playing with a lot of emotion and a lot of energy on the ice,” said Vigneault. “He’s a good competitor. When he plays with a lot of feistiness he’s tough to play against.”
For Burrows, a good night is keeping the opposition’s best player off the scoresheet. A better night is when that player also takes a penalty out of frustration.
“The bottom line is those guys are good players,” he said. “Once you start competing with them, and competing hard, that’s what they don’t like.
“They think they will be able to outskill you. If you go out, compete against them and out battle them, that’s what really gets under their skin.”
Against Atlanta, Burrows’ constant battering and yapping put the Thrashers’ Ilya Kovalchuk off his game.
“Those Russian guys, they don’t like that kind of stuff,” Burrows said with pride. “Normally they shy away from it.”
Being a pest takes brains as well as brawn.
“You have to be smart about it,” Burrows said. “You don’t want to cost your team a penalty and be in the box for two minutes while the guy you were trying to get under his skin is on the power play.
“Sometimes it’s by giving him a whack or sometimes it’s by saying something. You have to be smart and not get caught.”