Former captain Andy Burnes ended his collegiate hockey career on
a Michigan team with 10 players who already had an NHL team
awaiting their services. With the market for a small stay-at-home
defenseman in pro hockey far from booming, Burnes’ future in
hockey was unclear.

“I think (Andy is) one of those kids coming out of school
that you never know what’s going happen to him,”
Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “He’s been a good
player at Michigan, he’s been a leader, he has been a
heart-and-soul player.”

A week after his final season came to a close, Burnes received
an offer to take a vacation away from Ann Arbor. But he
wasn’t headed home or to some spring break hotspot in Mexico
— Burnes was off to Albany, New York.

The American Hockey League’s Albany River Rats gave Burnes
a tryout contract to join the team for its final three games. He
suited up for two games, finishing with no points and a plus-minus
rating of minus-3.

But his week in Albany wasn’t as much about stats as it
was a sneak peek into what next season could hold for the Battle
Creek native.

“Even just those three games, you kind of get a taste of
what professional hockey is like,” Burnes said.
“It’s a whole different lifestyle and a whole different
kind of hockey.

“I think it was a great experience for me,” he
added.

Burnes will head back to Albany for training camp this fall a
little wiser. He knows he needs to add size and muscle to play with
the larger players in professional hockey.

“You’ve got to get bigger and stronger and
you’ve got to mature a little bit in the offseason,”
Burnes said. “That’s what I’ve been doing.
I’ve been back (in Ann Arbor) and working hard. We will see
where it takes me in the fall.”

Adding to the already difficult challenge of finding a permanent
pro contract is the NHL labor strife. Should NHL owners call a
lockout, players on the New Jersey Devils — the River Rats
parent club — with minor league options on their contract
could limit the spots available to aspiring players like
Burnes.

“(Guys like Burnes have) to add something special.
It’s either size, it might be offense, it might be defense,
it might be physical presence.” Berenson said. “A
player like Andy Burnes — and some other players we’ve
had — are good players, but are they as good (as a player
like Mike Komisarek). And that’s the question, how they play
at the next level.”

This past weekend, Burnes put business on hold for a few days as
he spent time with some of his former teammates in the Summer
Hockey Showcase at Yost Ice Arena. Mike Cammalleri (Los Angeles),
Andy Hilbert (Boston) and Josh Langfeld (Ottawa) joined Burnes on
the White team taking on Jeff Jillison (San Jose) and Mark Mink
(Kalamazoo – UHL) on blue during Friday’s under-35
game.

“(We’re) just having fun in the summer time,”
Burnes said. “It’s all about coming together and
sharing stories of your days at Michigan.”

At Michigan, Burnes served as an alternate captain his junior
year before donning the ‘C’ during his final season in
a Wolverine uniform. He made three trips to the Frozen Four to go
with 24 career points from the blue-line.

Burnes is optimistic heading into Albany’s camp this year,
but knows he has a challenge ahead of him.

“I’ll find someplace to play, and I’ll give it
a shot this year,” Burnes said. “After next season,
I’ll reassess my situation and see what the next year’s
going to be like.”

At the very least, Burnes has recent history on his side. The
man who preceded him as Michigan captain, Jed Ortmeyer, left
Michigan undrafted before signing with the Rangers to play for
their AHL affiliate. Ortmeyer wasted no time and quickly joined the
Rangers for 58 games. Andy Burnes begins his quest to recreate
history this fall.

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