The shocking, untimely Feb. 5 death of Brendan Burke, the son of Toronto Maple Leafs and U.S. Olympic Team General Manager Brian Burke, echoed across the United States and Canada.
Brendan Burke, 21, was killed in a car crash on a snow-covered highway near the Indiana-Ohio border, not far from Richmond. Burke came into the national spotlight from a feature story about him late last year on ESPN.com, detailing the love and acceptance Burke got from his dad after coming out as gay.
Brendan Burke ( of Canton, Mass. ) and Mark A. Reedy, 18, ( Bloomfield Hills, Mich. ) died at the scene of an accident involving two vehicles, according to TheStar.com. Investigators said Burke was driving eastbound on U.S. 35 in a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee when, according to witnesses, the vehicle slid sideways into an oncoming 1997 Ford Truck, driven by Michael Moreland, 24. Moreland was not hurt.Read more story below....
Burke was a student manager on the University of Miami ( Ohio ) hockey team and dreamed of being involved in National Hockey League ( NHL ) management. Burke was set to graduate in May and planned to attend law school. His hockey duties at Miami included video breakdown and compilation of goalie statistics.
Miami defeated Lake Superior State 10-4 the day after his death. Miami coach Enrico Blasi learned of Burke's death during the game.
"There's really no words to describe the emotions," Miami coach Enrico Blasi told the Dayton Daily News. "All the boys just really wanted to do this for Brendan. I think it shows the kind of person he was, what he meant to us.
"It was a difficult 24 hours for everybody. I think we all know in the locker room that he was with us tonight."
On Feb. 6, the Toronto Maple Leafs observed a moment of silence in Burke's honor, and dedicated their 5-0 win over the Ottawa Senators to Brendan.
"We really wanted to win for Brendan, Brian and the whole Burke family," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said after the game.
Members of the Chicago Gay Hockey Association ( CGHA ) were shocked at the news of Burke's death and, on Feb. 10, sent a letter to Brian Burke, expressing their deepest condolences.
"Many of the members of our organization have heard of and been inspired by Brendan's story of coming out to his family, friends, and teammates," the CGHA letter stated. "It was one of courage and acceptancea moving story of love and support from Brendan's family and friends.
"We will remember his encouraging message of compassion and strength. Many of us know all too well the difficulties that Brendan faced in coming out to his family and teammates, especially in a medium as difficult as the hockey community. Likewise, we recognize and commend him for overcoming the unique challenges he faced.
"Brendan's inner strength and fortitude have been an inspiration to our members. Each of us can only hope that we have a fraction of the dramatic and lasting impact on people that Brendan had. Brendan's tireless efforts to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by gay teenagers and athletes have affected countless people. He touched and helped many people throughout his life.
"No matter what team he played with, he would have been an inspiration both on and off the ice. Even though none of us had the opportunity to play alongside Brendan, we each feel as if we have lost a teammate."
Rob Vendetti, of the CGHA's Chicago Blackwolves team, said, "It is sad whenever we lose somebody so young, but a tragedy when it is somebody who is trying to break down the sexual orientation barriers in the sports world." The Blackwolves' Stephen Leonard added, "Unlike Brendan, I let my sexuality be a determining factor in high school and stopped playing hockey for fear of harassment from other teammates. The weight of balancing sexuality and social identity at a young age is extremely heavy. Brendan's story is an inspiration as it is living proof that an individual is truly measured by their heart and determination. I commend him for the life he lived and the confidence his story lends to young athletes struggling with identity and truth."
Austin Baidas, who also plays for the Blackwolves, said: "When you talk about the overall fight for equality, it's very encouraging when you see a young man able to step up, be out and have a positive response from everyone. We are very appreciative and very respectful for everything he did. We're deeply saddened by his death."
Brendan Burke's funeral was in Canton, Mass., and the Miami team attended. Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Queenville, general manager Stan Bowman and others within the organization attended the services. Brendan's sister, Molly, and brother, Patrick, delivered the eulogy.
Also at the funeral were scores of people from the NHL, including referees ( past and present ) , retired layers, fellow general managers, player agents and broadcasters. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman attended, as did former NHL greats Camp Neely and Mark Messier.
Father James McCune spoke to the overflow crowd of mourners at St. John the Evangelist Church. "Brendan's public admission of his sexual orientation is widely credited with nudging hockey forward in overcoming its sometimes homophobic culture," McCune said.