It would be difficult to find someone more well-versed in what the Ontario Hockey League represents than George Burnett.
Burnett’s association with the OHL began in 1979 when he embarked on a three-year playing career with London. Following his time with the Knights, Burnett moved on to play Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) hockey at McGill University in Montreal. He was the first McGill University hockey player ever to earn CIS All-Canadian honors, accomplishing the feat as a freshman in 1982-83, when he established the Redmen single-season points record, posting a 21-60-81 mark in 38 games. His 60-assist campaign still stands as a school record. In addition, he was the nation’s CIS Scoring Champion in 1983.
Burnett studied education at McGill and taught physical education at his high school in Port Perry, Ont., for two years before turning to coaching. He began coaching full time at Seneca College in 1988 and returned to the OHL in 1989 as an assistant coach in Oshawa, one of five OHL cities in which he’s coached over 20 seasons.
Now, after a 12-season run with the Belleville Bulls/Hamilton Bulldogs franchise, former NHL Head Coach George Burnett will devote his full attention to the role of general manager of the Flint Firebirds. In 19 of the 20 years, he had the dual role of coach-GM. The only exception, in 1997-98, Burnett led the Guelph Storm to the OHL championship and a runner-up showing in the Memorial Cup.
“People tell me that I will miss coaching,” Burnett said. “I’m sure after 30 years, I will miss many aspects of it, but I believe this opportunity at this time, is the right fit. I’m excited to tackle the challenges ahead in this new role. I will have more opportunities to be involved in the scouting and recruiting process to help build this program. I have the utmost confidence in Ryan’s [Oulahen] ability to lead our coaching staff and look forward to supporting them in any way possible. It will be a great opportunity for me to work closely with Joe Stefan, Dave McParlan and our scouting staff, all of whom bring tremendous success and experience to our program.”
Burnett, who signed a three-year contract in May, is encouraged by the way the offseason has transpired for the Firebirds.
Despite a tumultuous inaugural season, they received commitments from all three of their top draft picks: first-rounder Ty Dellandrea, and second-rounder’s Hunter Holmes and Dennis Busby.
“We provided a very clear message at our orientation camp to all new prospective families and players,” Burnett said. “Our program will be based on good structure and accountability, both on and off the ice.”
“Our group has been built under unique circumstances and I know that we all take the responsibility very seriously. We want the Flint Firebirds to be an organization that is respected and a program that players and families want to be part of,” added Burnett.
“We understand clearly that there is work to be done. Providing perspective families and players with the necessary information allows them to make an informed decision about our program. We will continue to work hard to ensure that everyone will be provided a safe environment to develop, not only as hockey players, but as students and young men. People are buying in and committing, we are heading in the right direction.”
In 20 seasons as an OHL head coach, Burnett ranks fifth in OHL victories, posting a 636-560-51-85 record. The only other OHL coaches with more wins are Brian Kilrea (1,193), Bert Templeton (907), Larry Mavety (658) and Stan Buter (648). When Burnett coached Belleville, the Bulls finished first in the Eastern Conference and made at least the third round of the playoffs four times in seven seasons from 2006-13. The Bulls reached the OHL Finals during the 2007-08 season.
“We are all very fortunate to work in the OHL, it is a great league,” Burnett said. “I’m sincere and appreciative for all the opportunities that I have had. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we won’t be outworked. Every indication that I’ve seen from the group of people that has been put together here has been reassuring.”
Burnett’s coaching success in the OHL gave him the opportunity to move up the hockey ladder.
He coached the Edmonton Oilers’ farm team in Cape Breton to the 1992-93 Calder Cup championship. After another season in Cape Breton, Burnett realized every coach’s dream, as he became the Head Coach of the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers in 1994-95.
He returned to the AHL the following season in Binghamton, N.Y. After two seasons in Binghamton and the Memorial Cup finals berth in Guelph, Burnett was back in the NHL as an assistant coach in Anaheim from 1998-2000.
“Having an opportunity to be in the National League as a head coach and then again as an assistant coach, winning the Calder Cup in Cape Breton our first year, those were tremendous experiences,” Burnett said. “Many life-long relationships were developed. When you sit back and reflect on the things that happened along the way, regardless of whether they were good or bad, they’re all things that you learn from that help you make better decisions moving forward.”
Based on his many experiences in the OHL, Burnett believes patience is crucial to building an OHL championship caliber program.
For Flint, that is the goal.
Written by Bill Khan
Season ticket packages for the Flint Firebirds 2016-17 season are on sale now and can be purchased at the Dort Federal Event Center Box Office, Monday thru Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information can be found at FlintFirebirds.com or by calling Mary Nagy at the Box Office at (810) 744-0580 or by emailing Matt Dewire at firstname.lastname@example.org.