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Brian Burke’s cathartic Afghanistan trip

Brian Burke

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke speaks to the media for the first time since the death of his 21-year-old Brendan on Friday, Feb. 12, 20101, before an NHL hockey game between the Maple Leafs and the St. Louis Blues in St. Louis.(AP Photo/Tom Gannam)


For most people, Brian Burke’s last year would feel like a lifetime. Personally, he dealt with the death of his son Brendan shortly after the 21-year-old announced that he was gay via a column by John Buccigross. Being the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs brings King Kong pressure on its own but Burke intensified that by making some huge moves, including trading valuable draft picks for Phil Kessel and acquiring struggling big-name (and big money) guys like Dion Phaneuf and J.S. Giguere. Oh, let’s not forget that the man also compiled that excellent silver medal winning US Olympic team. In a year of conflict, it makes some sense then that Burke would find catharsis in - of all places - Afghanistan. Damien Cox shared the story of his journey for the Toronto Star.

Naturally, the trip did have its fair share of tragedy (that one might imagine hit particularly close to home for the Leafs’ GM).

Still, Burke was aware of the danger. Troy Gamble, a former Vancouver Canucks goalie, lost his 20-year-old son, a U.S. Marine, in Afghanistan earlier in the month, and Burke was one of the first to contact Gamble. While the Leaf president/GM was in Kandahar, a 19-year-old Marine was killed.

“When you’re staring out at a transport plane and they’re loading the body of a 19-year-old, sure, you think of your own situation,” he said. “Really, what I was thinking of most was that poor boy’s family back home.”

While I’m uncertain if Burke is making the right moves to re-build the Leafs, there’s no doubt that he deserves respect for the work he did in Vancouver and Anaheim. If nothing else, I hope that he can find peace after a brutal year.