Long before he established himself as a top NHL goaltender, Sean Burke was becoming a household name in Canada.
After getting a taste of international hockey in the 1986 world junior championships, the highly rated goaltender opted to apprentice with the Canadian national team instead of the minor professional leagues. In the 1986-87 and 1987-88 seasons Burke stopped pucks in 78 official games with the national team, winning 46 of them. His performance was strong enough to make the 1988 Olympic team, though he’d have to share goaltending duties with NHL holdout Andy Moog. The duo formed a formidable tandem, but ultimately the team could only finish in fourth place in front of a Canadian audience.
Burke would go on to the National Hockey League and quickly prove to be a big league netminder. By 1991 his strong play combined with his international experience made him a solid choice as the third goalie for a victorious Team Canada at the Canada Cup. He never played a minute of action as he backed up Bill Ranford and Ed Belfour.
While most of the members of the 1991 Canada Cup championship team quickly disbanded back to their NHL clubs, Burke became involved in a contract dispute with the New Jersey Devils that would ultimately cost him the entire NHL season. Burke returned to his roots and joined the Canadian national team for most of the season. It was perfect timing as 1992 was another Olympic year. Burke would post a strong 5-2 record with a 2.37 goals against average as he backstopped Canada to an impressive silver medal performance.
Burke often played with weak NHL teams and often were knocked out of the playoffs early. As a result Burke extended his season four times as he participated in four world championships. Having won silver medals in 1989 and 1991, Burke’s 7-1-3 record including three shutouts earned him a rare Canadian gold medal at the prestigious tournament.
Because of his extensive international experience, Burke always seemed to be on the cusp of rejoining Team Canada for major events. Such was the case in 2002 when Ed Belfour edged him out of the reserve goaltender role. Had he made the team, it would have been Burke’s third Olympic games. That would have set a record for Canadian goaltenders and would have tied Terry O’Malley, Wally Schreiber and Eric Lindros among all hockey players.