MOUNT WILLIAM – (Editor’s Note): Former NHL executive Brian Burke spoke at the Pictou County Wellness Centre on Tuesday. Burke had upper-echelon jobs with the old Hartford Whalers, Vancouver Canucks, Anaheim Ducks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames.
He won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007 and since leaving the Flames last spring, has worked as a hockey analyst with Sportsnet and on Hockey Night in Canada.
Prior to his presentation, The News caught up with him to ask a few questions about leadership and life in hockey.
On what makes a good leader:
“My two big things are honest and fairness, the two biggest things for a leader to be successful. It’s critical that you be totally honest with your employees and players, and fairness is the key – everything that you do has to have an element of fairness to it.”
If someone in a leadership role doesn’t exhibit those traits, Burke added, “it usually fails pretty hard and pretty fast.”
On the You Can Play program, which he launched with his son Patrick in 2012, to honour Brendan, Brian Burke’s son who died in a car crash in 2010. The program is targeted at ending homophobia in sports.
“The program is designed to keep gay athletes in team sports, because at a certain point, especially on the male side, dressing rooms become more homophobic and it becomes more difficult for that player. But if you can play, you can play. We’ve had tremendous impact I think, with young gay athletes being able to stay on their teams (but) we’re not anywhere close to where we need to be.”
On the media coverage in Toronto, where Burke worked from 2008-2013.
“When I was in Hartford, we had maybe four reporters in the dressing room after a game. Even in Calgary, maybe 20, but there’s 80 in Toronto and when you lose a game they all pick up a rock. Whether it’s the GM one night, or the coach or star player. It’s a hard place to play when you’re not having success.”
On meeting hockey fans:
“I got asked at one of these things, what’s my favourite food? Someone once asked me what I was reading and I thought that was a strange question. I’ve been asked what kind of sheets I use, and the last one is none of your business.”
On if he’s bothered if the public views him as being abrupt and surly:
“No. There’s a side of me that people don’t see and I’m glad they don’t. I have no problem with people seeing me as rough and gruff. People close to me know better, so I don’t know worry about that stuff when I go to sleep at night.”
On winning the Stanley Cup, as his Ducks did in 2007:
“No one can ever argue with you when you have a (Stanley Cup) parade. It doesn’t matter if your team turns out to be terrible for the next 10 years, when you have a parade, you got a ring, there’s no debate.”