BEAVERTON, Ore. — Brendan Burke has learned to be patient.
For the past two seasons, Burke has been preparing to play for the Portland Winterhawks, often knowing that his place would be on the bench.
“It’s really hard,” Burke said about biding his time while Mac Carruth was in goal for the Winterhawks’ run to the Western Hockey League championship. “I’m not going to lie. I had some tough days.”
Carruth has graduated to professional hockey. The 18-year-old Burke is Portland’s most experienced goalie as the Winterhawks begin the 2013-14 season, which opens today at the Moda Center against Prince George. An injury, and then time spent at the Phoenix Coyotes’ training camp, prevented Burke from playing any preseason games. But Winterhawks coach and general manager Mike Johnston said Burke is ready to play.
Over the summer, in addition to attending the Phoenix Coyotes’ rookie camp, Burke (listed at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds) said he focused on weightlifting to build strength in preparation for a heavier workload in the winter.
“I was always looking forward to this year. I’m going to get my chance,” Burke said. “(Last season) I wanted to make sure I took as much advantage of my training as I could, and make sure I’m ready when it comes time for me to be a starter.”
The son of former National Hockey League goalie Sean Burke, Brendan was ready when called upon last season. Appearing in 33 regular-season games, he finished with 24 wins, five loses and one overtime loss. He won 10 consecutive starts at one point, and posted three shutouts in four games last January. As a 16-year-old, Burke appeared in 18 games, posting a 7-2-1-1 mark.
“You can only control the games you are in,” Burke said. “You get (confidence) by playing well. Last year I felt I had a couple of really strong games, especially in the second half of the year I felt like I played really well.”
He played well enough as a 17-year-old that the Coyotes — where his dad is the goalie coach — selected Burke in the sixth round of June’s NHL draft. Wednesday was his first practice with the Winterhawks after returning from the Coyotes training camp.
Burke said he always wanted to follow in his dad’s path and play goalie. But his father had Brendan play forward for his first few years of hockey. Brendan noted that young players lack the lower body strength to play effectively play goalie, and said his father wanted him to be sure goalie was where he wanted to play.
“I learned how to become a better skater and a better athlete,” Burke said of his time as a forward in youth hockey. “When I made the switch (to goalie, at age 11) I think that helped me a lot.”
Burke is looking forward to the challenge of being the No. 1 goalie on a team with high aspirations. Among things he isn’t concerned about are his goals-against average (2.92 in 51 career WHL games) and his save percentage (89.9).
“I measure myself by wins,” Burke said. “You can’t break a player down by numbers. As long as I’m a leader, a consistent rock for my team, and we’re getting wins, the stats will come.”
NOTE — The Winterhawks will unfurl their 2012-13 WHL championship banner prior to today’s season opener. Game time is 7 p.m. at the Moda Center.
Portland Winterhawks preview
Winning formula — Over the past three seasons, the Winterhawks have a regular-season record of 156 wins, 50 regulation losses, and 10 losses in overtime or shootouts. They have made the Western Hockey League finals three years in a row, winning the championship last season.
Fab forwards — The Winterhawks return five of their top six forwards, including 120-point producers Brendan Leipsic (49 goals, 71 assists) and Nic Petan (46 goals, 74 assists). Shane McColgan, a 20-year-old acquired in a trade with Saskatoon, is likely to replace departed Ty Rattie on the top line. Also back are Taylor Leier, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Chase De Leo, the second line throughout the 2013 playoffs.
Rebuilt defense — Gone are Troy Rutkowski, Seth Jones and Tyler Wotherspoon. Derrick Pouiot is expected back but could stick with the Pittsburgh Penguins. To fill those spots, Portland added 18-year-old Anton Cederholm of Sweden through the import draft and 20-year-old Garrett Harr, an offensive defensemen who left Western Michigan University after two seasons to join the Winterhawks. Veterans Shaun MacPherson and Josh Hanson, and 16-year-old Kioni Texeira figure to have larger roles.
Coaching shift — Mike Johnston is back behind the bench after he was suspended for most of the 2012-13 season as part of league-imposed penalties. Travis Green, who served as head coach last season, is now the head coach for the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League. The Winterhawks promoted Vancouver resident Kyle Gustafson, who will split assistant coaching duties with newcomer Karl Taylor.
Fan facts — Radio: 860 AM/Winterhawks.com. Tickets: Winterhawks.com/503-236-4296. Booster club: http://www.pwhbc.com. Popular home games: Dec. 14 vs. Seattle (Teddy bear toss), Dec. 31 vs. Kelowna (New Year’s Eve party), Jan. 19 vs. Kelowna (Daylight Classic), March 7 vs. Seattle (mascot night).