'Part of my heart ripped out': Leafs GM
An emotional Brian Burke addressed the media before the Toronto Maple Leafs faced off against the St. Louis Blues on Friday, thanking the fans, the Leafs organization and the National Hockey League for their outpouring of support after the death of his son Brendan last week.
"I don't think my grief will ever end," the Leafs general manager said. "I think part of my heart was ripped out, but it's time to engage again and move forward as Brendan would have wanted."
Burke, 21, died of his injuries after a two-vehicle collision in snowy conditions on U.S. Highway 35 near Richmond, Ind., on Feb. 5. Mark Reedy, 18, a passenger in his car, was also killed.
The driver of the other vehicle suffered minor injuries.
Burke said he was at a junior hockey game in London, Ont., when he "got the call that you never want to get," with his son Patrick relaying the tragic news.
Brendan Burke was remembered in a wake in Canton, Mass., on Monday, with a funeral mass and private burial held over the next two days.
"It's a tribute to this young man that 1,200 people showed up [on Monday], the line went around the block and we were there for eight-and-a-half hours," said Burke.
Burke was a student at Miami University in Ohio and had been largely out of the spotlight until just over two months ago, when he talked with ESPN and other media outlets about the challenges of playing sports growing up while coming to terms with being gay.
"It's not supposed to be this way, your kids are supposed to bury you," said Burke. "It's compounded by the fact that Brendan was a special kid.
"Not too many 21-year-olds have blazed a trail like that. He had a huge heart and a great future, and I promise that his message will live on."
Among those Burke specifically thanked were Larry Tannebaum and Richard Peddie of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment and their families, as well as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and league deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
"[But] what's really touching is the fans, the number of e-mails I've got and letters I've got from people I've never met, expressing their condolences and support," he said.
Burke and his first wife Kerry are parents to four children, including Brendan. Burke has since remarried and has two children with his wife Jennifer.
Burke will head to Vancouver on Saturday, where he will serve as the general manager of the U.S. Olympic men's hockey team competing at the Olympics.