Sheldon Burns never takes anything for granted, but he knew early on in training camp last year that he was at least factoring into the planning with first-year head coach Glenn Clark and assistant coach Jim Veltman.
“Having a sit-down with Clarkie and V, and having them tell you that you’re a great player and ‘We need you to be this type of player, and we need you to take it to the next level because we are really going to rely on you,’ that put me in the mindset where I needed to be above and beyond what I was in my rookie season,” Burns said. “In a way, it kind of puts pressure on (me), but it’s good pressure and I was comfortable with that. I kind of ran with it.”
He ran it all the way to career highs for goals (9), assists (11) and loose balls (104) while helping the Black Wolves improve from 4-14 in 2015 to 10-8 last winter.
Originally selected in the third round of the 2014 NLL Entry Draft with the 22nd overall pick, Burns spent much of his rookie season adjusting to the challenge of playing transition at the professional level.
“A transition player is someone who is more so a defensive player, but who always has offensive capabilities,” Burns explained. “They are able to handle the ball, bring it up the floor, get the offense on the floor and, if need be, sometimes stay on offense if the situation is right. It’s all situational. Normally, you will see the transition players playing at the top of the floor because if there is a quick break, the transition players will be the first ones up the floor to try and get that ball in a key place on the floor, trying to get those offensive players on, and trying to get numbers in order to try and score.”
Prior to the start of his second season, Veltman asked Burns to start looking for opportunities to push transition. The 25-year-old Whitby, Ontario native embraced the challenge, and the results were significant. Burns had three power play goals, two short-handed goals and one short-handed assist, numbers that illustrate his aggressive play in 2016.
But perhaps more impressive was the 104 loose balls he collected in 2016. That was the second most on the team and almost twice what he had as a rookie.
“Loose balls are a great statistic,” Burns said. “I would put them up against goals and assists. Any time you’re going to manage possession in a game, it’s huge and it starts with those ground balls, whether it be on face-offs or in the corner after a shot. You are trying to minimize a team’s second possession of the ball. Anytime you can put your body on the line, anytime you can get into a corner and try to get that ball and try to win that for your team, it’s definitely a plus.”
It requires a relentless approach to the game.
“You’ve got to contest everything,” Burns said. “You have to put your body on the line. You’ve got to have proper body position to try and get the ball. Face-offs are huge for that. You’ve got to help that faceoff guy if he’s having a tough night. You’ve got to get in there and get your hands dirty and try to win that possession.”
And has Burns has shown, he is always ready for a battle.
“No matter what, I never walk into the building assuming I have a spot on the team,” he explained of his mindset at the start of each training camp. “I always want to work, show them what I’m made of in the preseason and beyond.”