TORONTO - Members of the Toronto Maple Leafs expressed sorrow for general manager Brian Burke on Saturday, one day after his youngest son, Brendan, died in a car accident on a snowy highway in the United States.
Players were informed just before their flight departed New Jersey following a game on Friday night. A handful spoke with reporters following a pre-game skate Saturday.
"It's the worst news you could ever receive," Leafs forward Christian Hanson said. "I don't think there's anything that can be worse than losing a family member."
According to a local media report, Brendan Burke was killed as heavy snow was falling on the roads north of Economy, Ind., near the Ohio border. The 2004 Jeep Cherokee in which he was riding reportedly slid into oncoming traffic and crashed into a truck going the other way, killing Burke and friend Mark A. Reedy, 18.
The driver of the truck was reportedly uninjured.
"You never think, 'that's going to happen to me,"' veteran Toronto defenceman Francois Beauchemin said. "But when it happens to somebody really close, like Brian, you kind of do think about it. It can happen any time, and it's really tough."
Beauchemin, who played for Burke in Anaheim and remembers celebrating their Stanley Cup win at a gathering with Brendan three years ago, said a moment of silence would be held before Saturday night's home game against the Ottawa Senators.
Brendan Burke, who was a student at Miami University in Ohio and a manager for the school's top-ranked hockey team, generated headlines last year after ESPN.com ran a heartwarming story about the decision to tell his father he was gay.
"I had a million good reasons to love and admire Brendan," Brian Burke said in the story. "This news didn't alter any of them."
Father and son discussed the news during a joint appearance on TSN last year. Brendan Burke said that, while it was initially nerve-wracking to come out to his father, he knew he would find support.
"I was surprised, but Brendan's a wonderful kid," Brian Burke said in the interview. "He's been a joy since the day he came home from the hospital, and I support him. I'm very proud of him."
Burke said he told his son he loved him.
"He's supported me with everything I've done in the past," Brendan Burke said during the interview. "I knew he would support me on this, too, and it really meant a lot. My whole family has been there for me, and been behind me 100 per cent."
Both men said the positive feedback overwhelmed any of the negative they might have received.
"Pioneers are often misunderstood," Brian Burke told TSN. "You don't wish this on your son, you wish that someone else carries that burden first, and then he can grab it and help. But this is what he wanted to do, and we support him."
Leafs goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere played for Burke in Anaheim, and knew his son.
"It's really sad," Giguere said. "I don't think we can even comprehend what Burkie is going through at this point. I think, right now, it's best to just let him grieve and make sure that we do our job here at the rink to make sure he doesn't have to worry about that."