James Leslie Burton
Born: November 13, 1961 (Georgetown, Ontario)
Died: January 6, 2015 (Evans, Georgia)
Jim Burton was a free-wheeling, all-star defenceman in the International Hockey League before moving to Europe. He played for Austria at the 1994 Olympics.
Born in Georgetown, Ont., and raised in nearby Brantford, where, as a boy, he played alongside Wayne Gretzky. After three seasons of junior hockey with the Windsor Spitfires, Burton turned professional with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Komets.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Burton was known as the Bobby Orr of the IHL. He won the Governors Trophy as the league’s best defenceman in 1983, 1986 and 1987. In 1985-86, he scored 30 goals with 64 assists in 82 games, a remarkable output for a blueliner. Burton was four times named an IHL First Team All-Star.
In 545 games with the Komets, Burton scored 117 goals with 436 assists.
He also played in 90 American Hockey League games with the Hershey Bears and Rochester Americans, scoring 11 goals with 35 assists.
In 1988, Burton went to Europe to play for Lustenau in Austria. He later skated for Klagenfurter AC.
While in Austria, he skated for the national team in four world championships from 1992 to 1995. In 26 games, he scored nine goals with 17 assists.
The defenceman scored two goals with two assists at the 1994 Olympics at Lillehammer, Norway. One of his goals was Austria’s only score in a 9-1 whipping at the hands of Russia.
Burton returned to North America late in the 1995-96 season, playing nine games with the Phoenix Roadrunners of the IHL. He wound up his playing career with the Austin Ice Bats of the Western Professional Hockey League (the WPHL, known as the Whipple).
He then coached for six seasons in the WHPL, known as the Whipple, and the East Coast Hockey League. He guided such teams as the Arkansas GlacierCats and the Augusta (Ga.) Lynx. He later became general manager and director of hockey operations for the Lynx.
Burton worked as director of marketing and corporate sales for the Jones Creek Golf Club at Evans, Ga. He also assisted his wife, the former Sandra (Sandy) MCNeely in running her flower shop. He died at home of a heart attack, aged 53.
The only NHL game in which he played was an exhibition with the Buffalo Sabres during which he was paired with Phil Housley.
“People ask me if I’m bitter I never made it,” Burton told Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal in 1999. “They want to know if I got screwed somewhere along the line. No, I didn’t. I worked hard enough. I’d line up 100 pucks after practice and one-time shots from one side of the rink, then do it again from the other side. I wasn’t tough, but I’d wade in and usually pay for it by getting punched. I didn’t make it to the NHL because there was some flaw in my game, I guess. I didn’t make it because I just wasn’t good enough.”
Jim Burton (second row, fifth from left) played three seasons of junior hockey with Windsor Spitfires.