GM Sean Burke urging Team Canada to make most of Games

Several players have already enjoyed 'once in a lifetime' opening ceremony march

GM Sean Burke urging Team Canada to make most of Games
Sean Burke, right, who played goalie for the 1988 Canadian Olympic team and is now the team's GM, wants his players to fully embrace the experience of the Games. © The Associated Press

By: Neil Davidson, Canadian Press

Sean Burke recalls heading down to the Athletes Village cafeteria "at an odd hour" during the 1988 Olympics in Calgary and trying to ID the athlete sitting at his table.

"I couldn't for the life of me think of what this guy could possibly do and what sport he could play," Burke recalled. "It ended up being Eddie the Eagle."

Running into the English plasterer-turned-not-very-good-ski-jumper is the kind of story that still makes the 51-year-old Burke chuckle three decades later. And the two-time hockey Olympian, now GM of Team Canada, is advising his players to make sure they make the most of the Olympic experience.

"There is pressure," said Burke, whose six-foot-four frame filled an NHL crease for 820 games. "We're not just here to enjoy the experience, we're here to win.

"But I think along with that it gives you a better chance if you take it all in. If you feel part of not only part of the hockey tournament but you feel part of the bigger team which is for us, obviously, Team Canada.

"The intensity with which guys will play, the drive they have, we have no doubt that will be there when the puck drops. But in the meantime, in between, take it in, enjoy it and feel how special it is."

High-level competition motivates

The Canadians, who open play Feb. 15 against Switzerland, planned to take in short-track speed skating or curling on Saturday night after practice.

"I just think the triumph of watching this sort of high-level competition in any event is just amazing. It just motivates you," said Burke. "As management, you wish you could put the gear back on and get out there."

Head coach Willie Desjardins said the hockey players looks forward to cheering on their fellow Canadian athletes, "watching their dreams come true."

Burke and some other team managers skipped the opening ceremonies Friday, to allow others who haven't taken part in the past to have the chance given limited numbers. Instead they watched from Canada House.

Those that did march said it was memorable.

"The whole lap you've got a big huge smile on your face," said forward Derek Roy. "It was awesome. We had a blast."

"It was such a cool experience," echoed captain Chris Kelly. "Just to be around all the athletes and see the excitement on everyone's face. And I think everyone feels the exact same emotion, regardless of what sport you're playing, that you're proud and so passionate to be Canadian."

"You hear about it, you think it's going to be good. But it's so much better when you get there," Desjardins said of the opening ceremonies.

Once in a lifetime

The Canadian players stayed for the whole ceremonies, getting a bit of break from the elements because they were one of the later teams to enter.

"It was pretty cold but you get one chance at this," said Roy, who played 738 NHL games for six teams and now plies his trade in Sweden. "That's what everyone was saying. It's a once-in-a lifetime experience, we're staying for the whole thing."

Kelly has seen all the NHL has to offer, winning a Stanley Cup with the Bruins and playing 833 NHL games with Boston and Ottawa.

"I describe the Stanley Cup playoffs as feeling sick for two months. And it gets just worse and worse and worse and worse to the point where your nerves are taking over. But you get through it, you manage it and you enjoy it."

It's hard to believe the 37-year-old ever gets fazed. Kelly exudes calm even on the world stage.

"This is on a bigger scale, but I'm hoping those experiences in the past can help me manage this," he said.

The Canadian men share a building in the Athletes Village with the women's hockey team. Kelly says both teams are keeping their eye on the prize.

"Sleeping hasn't been a problem. The food's been fantastic. Honestly it's been a great experience so far," he said.

Wearing Canada gear from top to toe, Kelly marvelled at his new Olympic wardrobe.

"There's a lot of it," he said incredulously. "Tons."