Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
When Howie Rose decided to shock Islanders nation and announce his retirement from broadcasting hockey in May of 2016, everyone wondered who would be the next up to take over the microphone and perform the difficult task of painting the action on the ice for an entire fanbase of rabid, loyal fans watching on their television sets.
Rumors swirled of candidates interviewing with MSG networks for the job. When 32-year old Brendan Burke was announced as the successor, many simply showed a confused expression and uttered the words, "who"? Everyone, however, would learn real quick who Burke was and come to admire and appreciate his smooth style as the Islanders pushed through a topsy-turvy 2016-17 season.
National networks even paid attention, as Burke was selected to work the Western conference playoffs in San Jose and Anaheim as part of NBCSN's coverage.
A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who moved and settled in Fair Lawn, New Jersey at the age of six, Burke was very accomplished at the amateur and minor league ranks, as he was named to the "Top 30 Sportscasters Under 30" list released in 2014 by the Sportscasters Talent Agency of America and later received the James H. Ellery Memorial Award for the 2014-15 season, presented annually in recognition of outstanding media coverage of the American Hockey League.
He had a resume, and quite an impressive one. More than enough to impress the brass in New York and land him the coveted spot alongside Butch Goring and Shannon Hogan as part of the game-day experience.
I had a chance to catch-up with Brendan as he prepared for a well-deserved summer break with his wife, Mary, and two children.
You just completed your first season broadcasting Islanders games for the MSG network. Tell us about the experience, something you've worked so hard for over a number of years.
I spent 10 years 'riding the buses' through the minor leagues in both baseball and hockey and it was immediately all worth it the second I got on the air at MSG. It was a dream come true, everything I had hoped for and more. I could not have scripted it any better.
Your father, Don, started as a sportswriter in Milwaukee who covered the Brewers and Packers in addition to the IHL's Admirals. But you didn't have time to really set any roots there, moving to New Jersey when you were just six. Speak to the influence your dad, now a copy editor at the NY Post, had on your career.
It's pretty safe to say I wouldn't even be a broadcaster if not for him. I was exposed to the sports media world at a very young age and gravitated towards it. I really started to work at it in college and try and get better, and he has been there every step of the way. He has been my agent, publicist, and promoter, my everything going through this. He's been the biggest influence on my career and life ever since I wanted to do this.
I remember reading about a real touching interaction you had with your wife, Mary, after you got the call from your agent informing you that you had gotten the job. How important has her support been, especially after she gave birth during this past season to the family's second child? You're on the road quite a bit from October to April.
I met Mary in college, our junior year. We lived across the hall from one another. She has been on this crazy ride since the beginning. We've gone through a lot, lived apart for almost five years while I pursued this dream and she was studying nursing. We have moved a lot of different places and she has always believed in me, probably more than I believed in myself at times. To have someone like that to talk you off the ledge every once in a while is crucial. I would not have gotten through the difficult times and be where I am without her.
Was hockey your first sports love? Seeing and experiencing your dad covering many different sports, was there another, perhaps stronger interest, elsewhere prior to landing the job covering Wheeling of the ECHL, your first job calling the sport?
Let me say this…hockey is my first love when it came to playing. All through college, I loved the game. But baseball was always the intention when it came to broadcasting. The dream was to be a play by play guy for a major league baseball team. When I got to college, I realized baseball is really hard [laughs]. It's not as difficult to call, especially small division three. No stats, bios, just 3 ½ hours to kill. It was challenging and I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Once I got into hockey, it all made sense from there. It took me with it.
I don't know how Howie (Rose) did it. From a guy who did the minor league version of doing both sports and comparing it to him doing the professional version for 20 years, it's mind blowing - he's absolutely incredible.
Now that you've spent a full season covering the NHL, at home and on the road, what are the takeaways for you in comparison to your previous jobs, moving forward?
I did radio by myself for the past 10 years, so you're carrying the entire broadcast. You're the producer, director, play by play guy, analyst, etc. That's what I was used to. Being able to work with such incredible people at MSG now in a team environment and having Butch and his perspective to add into the broadcast and someone I can play off of has been the biggest adjustment but also the most rewarding change.
You were selected to work the San Jose-Edmonton series as part of NBC's playoff coverage and that has continued into the second round, as you are working the Anaheim-Oilers series. That is a tremendous testimony to your outstanding work this year, tell us how that came about?
That was the cherry on top of what has been an incredible season and totally unexpected. That was more my long-term plan, maybe getting to do some network games, getting into the rotation. But to have that come about here, in my first season, was awesome. Nothing materialized until the very end with the Islanders not being eliminated until the last weekend. I was able to do the first four games that turned into five then six then thought I was done. Flew all the way home from San Jose, said hello to Mary, settled into my offseason. For one night. Next day, phone went off and I was back on a plane heading to Anaheim.
You got to interact and witness first-hand the work of Travis Green in Utica. What are your expectations about the ex-Islander as he moves into the coaching ranks with Vancouver?
Travis is right for Vancouver, we'll see if Vancouver is right for Travis. He has his hands full but they're looking to develop young players and build towards the future, he's the best man for the job. He knows the system and personnel and there won't be a lot of learning from that perspective. He's come a long way. He gets it as far as what coaches go through now and how to prepare, he'll surround himself with good people and give it a shot.
Moving to the club, Doug Weight was promoted following the season, the interim tag coming off. There is all this arena talk and of course, John Tavares being eligible to sign an extension on July 1. How do you see some of these storylines working out as we enter what's widely considered to be a critical juncture for the organization?
Doug is a guy who, around the league even, was a breath of fresh air and was honest with the media in a time where some coaches don't announce their starting goaltender until puck-drop. He's very bright and insightful. Players wanted him back and it's a win for everyone in the organization.
The expansion draft is going to be very interesting. They have some tough choices to make. Do they leave a couple of guys unprotected who they feel, because of contact status, they won't be taken by Vegas to protect some others? Are they going with the 7/3 split? I'm very interested to see what happens there.
Obviously, getting John Tavares resigned as close to July 1 as possible is paramount. If he wants to come back, the team is definitely going to make the commitment to him and the franchise will be better for it. Hopefully, it gets resolved sooner rather than later and the team can move onto other business.