Tuesday, August 17, 2010

TC's Burke commits to Finlandia

Sean Burke has been an avid outdoorsman since he was old enough to hold a rod and reel.

Now, the former Traverse City North Stars forward and Grand Traverse Hockey Association product will be able to hunt the plentiful bounty and fish the well-stocked waters of the northernmost reaches of the Upper Peninsula – and get to play college hockey in Copper County.

Burke, who spent the last three seasons with the North Stars after a decorated high school career at Traverse City West, is headed to Finlandia University in Hancock, where he’ll study business and skate for the Lions.

“It feels good to have my direction set,” said Burke, who finished his junior career with 33 points over 137 contests. “It felt like there was a weight off my chest when it finally became official. I mean, there was no way I was going to go to college and not play hockey. I’m pretty excited about it.”

Burke was an All-State selection at TC West in 2007 and tendered by the North Stars. He appeared in 40 games as a rookie, with a pair of goals and five assists. His offensive output jumped to eight goals and as many assists in 2008-09 and he had logged a career-high nine goals last season before breaking his kneecap against Motor City on Jan. 23. He returned for the season finale and saw action in the team’s Robertson Cup playoff run, but hadn’t returned to full strength until the summer.

“That was hard because I had seen some interest from some schools, but when I was out injured – I had lost a lot of opportunity time; I was sitting on nothing,” Burke explained. “I hadn’t talked to Finlandia, but I got a text one day from (current TC West) coach Rintala asking me what I thought about it. It kind of came out of nowhere, but I’m glad it did.”

North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo says the Lions are getting the total package in Burke, and he should know – he’s coached Burke for the last eight seasons.

“I coached him as a bantam, in high school, and for the past three years in juniors,” Palumbo offered. “I know they’re getting a great kid and a great teammate with a tremendous work ethic. He’s earned everything he’s gotten at every level and I have no doubt he’ll do the same up there.”

Burke, who plans to study business at the 500-student private college on the rugged Keweenaw Peninsula, will not be alone as he embarks on his college hockey career. A pair of fellow TC West alums are also set to play at Finlandia this year: forward Shane Totten and defenseman Vinnie Pietrangelo.

Former North Stars goalie Ryan Donovan and ex-Marquette Rangers forward Collin Saint-Onge are also on the Lions roster.

Burke will also get to see some familiar faces on opposing benches this year by virtue of playing in the NCAA Division III Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association – Former North Stars Matt Hughes, Jameson Raymond and Jonathan Sheridan at Lawrence University, and Ben Plocar and Mike Schenfeld at Milwaukee School of Engineering.

“It’s exciting to move on to the next step of your career, to know you’re going to get a great education in a comfortable setting,” Burke said. “I think (playing) juniors – at that level, that pace – helps you mature as a player. You’re around good players who help you raise your own game and help you acclimate to the game when you’re a younger player.”

Like most hockey players, Burke had plenty of backing in matriculating from mite through bantam in the Grand Traverse Hockey Association youth program, his prep career at TC West and three-year run with the North Stars.

“I’ve had a lot of great coaches over the years who have helped me get this far,” Burke concluded. “And getting to play basically all my hockey in Traverse City, I’ve made a lot of lifelong friends and I’m grateful for that. But through it all, I’ve been lucky to have tremendous support from my family.

"I can’t thank them enough.”

Photo by John L. Russell/Great Lakes Images

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