VANCOUVER – If you think Brian Burke is happy with Team USA's securing the number one overall seed after preliminary-round play, think again.
The 54-year-old American GM was at his bombastic best during a Canada Hockey Place scrum with reporters during the first intermission of the U.S.-Sweden women's semi-final on Monday.
“We got outchanced two-to-one last night against Canada,” said Burke, refusing to celebrate the upset 5-3 victory that earned the U.S. a bye to the quarterfinals. “Our goalie stole us a game. Except for the goaltending position, we didn't deserve to win that game. That said, that's why we brought Ryan Miller. That's why he's here, because he's able to make saves like that. But that's not going to do it in the next round.”
Burke also identified specific areas where he wants this young American team to improve: “Our centre ice play. We've made some glaring turnovers that have resulted in scoring chances. We need more overall intensity for 60 minutes. I thought in the first 10 minutes of last night's game against Canada, we were non-existent. Then I thought we cranked it up.”
Saying he felt about 10 of his players were “pulling on the rope” while the other half of the team needed to get going, Burke singled out several for praise: “I thought Ryan Kesler was a gladiator last night from the opening faceoff on. He was good on faceoffs, he was physical. He used his foot speed. He was a pain in the ass to play against. Brian Rafalski might have played the best game of his life last night, and I thought Jack Johnson had a real strong game last night.”
Burke kept coming back to Miller, joking about how ectomorphic physiques run in the elite Buffalo netminder's family: “I remember the first time I saw him play: I was struck by how skinny he was. Even now, this guy should be doing ads for one of these weight-loss things. He's still a bone rack. I remember I had his brother Drew when I was in Anaheim. I watched him walk by me one time in Anaheim in his underwear and I said: 'Did they have a weight room at Michigan State?' He said: 'Yeah.' I said: 'Did you go in it?' He said: 'Every day. I'm just like my brother. I can't put on weight.'”
But just like skinny Czech great Dominik Hasek, stopping the puck is all that counts in the end. Now, according to Burke, it's time for the rest of Team USA to do their part in support of Miller, who ranks in the NHL's top five for goals-against average, save percentage, and shutouts this year.
“You didn't see Canada's best game last night,” Burke said. “You didn't see Sweden's best game last night. Everything gets ratcheted up now. We've got to ratchet it up too, or all this goes for naught. They don't hand out any medals for finishing first in the preliminary round.”
Most coaches and GMs minimize flavour and specifics in their quotes. (Classic examples at this tournament include Canada's Mike Babcock describing Ryan Getzlaf repeatedly as a “good player” and Russia's Vyacheslav Bykov discussing a game-changing Alexander Ovechkin hit on Jaromir Jagr in these dry terms: “We had tried to play in the third period very methodologically, and it was one of the episodes of that.”)
Fortunately, Burke has never had this problem, even when he's enduring a difficult season with his NHL club, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and continuing to grieve the tragic death of his 21-year-old son Brendan in a car accident just prior to the Games.
Especially if the Americans go on to win gold, expect some more verbal gems from Burke.