About a six-hour drive southeast of Nashville, where Alex Burrows will play his 500th NHL game on Tuesday, is Greenville, South Carolina.
It’s a million miles from the NHL, but it’s where Burrows’ improbable professional hockey journey began nearly a decade ago.
Hockey wasn’t big in Greenville, or for that matter Baton Rouge, La., or Columbia, S.C., the other two stops Burrows made in the East Coast Hockey League.
He remembers long bus rides, punctuated by stops at places like McDonald’s and Subway to help the players stretch their paltry per diems. And he remembers that all anyone seemed to care about in those places was college football and basketball. A hockey puck was a foreign object.
It was a tough environment in which to chase your NHL dream, especially for a player like Burrows who had been passed up in the NHL draft.
“It was always a dream to play in the NHL and it was really a big dream sometimes with those long bus rides,” Burrows said before the Canucks departed Monday for Nashville. “You are going to games where there are no scouts and no one really cares about hockey. It’s all about college football, college basketball, that’s all people really care about. It’s tough to get out of there.”
But Burrows did and here he is 500 games into a NHL career that has exceeded everyone’s expectations.
“Everyone has got their own story, has their own journey,” Burrows said. “Everyone has to work hard to get to 500 games even if you are a first-rounder or not drafted. But for me, it’s nice. I’m really happy with the way things have gone. We’re a Stanley Cup-contending team, we’re feeling good about our game, it’s fun to win and play with two of the best players in the world. It couldn’t be any better.”
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