Laurier Grads Soar is a ten-part series that features former Wilfrid Laurier University varsity athletes and student-leaders in the Athletics and Recreation Department and the success they have enjoyed since leaving Laurier. Written by award-winning journalist David Grossman, a different feature will be released each week over a nine-week span that will emphasize the role Athletics and Recreation played in helping them achieve success.
Bill Burke - Chief Executive Officer and owner, Niagara Ice Dogs
Friendly, articulate and caring are just a few words that sum up Bill Burke.
Over the years, he has focused on working hard, making right choices and has an immaculate history of handing out sound advice to people throughout the community. It just might be some of the factors as to why he is admired and respected.
And it was the same Burke who, many years ago, thought about personal aspirations, tinkered with some ideas and then boldly took a step forward – when others might have considered different options.
For Burke, pouncing on the opportunity turned out to be the right choice.
Very good in the classroom, Burke was also a talented running back having played four seasons for the Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks and a key member of the 1978 Ontario University Athletics Association (OUAA) championship squad.
Scouted by several Canadian Football League teams, when the time was right, Calgary drafted him leaving Burke with thoughts of a future in pro football.
At age 23, and after graduating from Laurier with an Economics Degree, Burke made a huge decision. He would hang up his cleats and work in the small family printing business. Sales were around $70,000 monthly back then, but when he sold it, those numbers skyrocketed to over one million a week.
Enjoying a profitable time as a small business owner, Burke changed direction and decided to return to the world of sport.
It wasn’t football – but hockey.
Burke also had something else in his favor: the experience of attracting, preserving and nurturing customers.
“I bought the Mississauga Ice Dogs from Eugene Melnyk and moved the team to St. Catharines for the 2007/8 season,” said Burke, now the Chief Executive Officer and owner of the Niagara Ice Dogs, 2012 and 2016 Ontario Hockey League Eastern Conference champs
“Sports is in our family and when my older son was drafted by Kingston to play hockey, I went to see him - and the interest took off from there.”
For Burke, involved in sports as a teen at Lawrence Park Collegiate and later graduating from Ridley College in St. Catharines, returning to a sport environment has worked well. As an owner and entrepreneur, he’s actively involved with financial contributions to hospitals, gets involved in anti-bullying programs run by the Ice Dogs and takes part in extensive community work throughout the Niagara Region.
Back at Laurier, Burke who was President of the Lettermen Club, was also a member of the Golden Hawks track team back then and involved in a myriad of athletic and community activities. He cherishes the Bill Haggstrom Trophy, a prestigious award given to him in 1980, for his contribution to athletic life at Laurier.
“I have fond memories of Laurier,” recalled Burke. “It was an old campus back then, small and quaint. There was something about the atmosphere of the place that attracted me. It was also an easy place to meet people – and that’s where I met my wife.”
And while there were many special times and highlights of his time at Laurier, one is distinct from others.
“Just after we had won the Yates Cup (Ontario university football championship), coming back by bus to campus and the greeting we received. It was really remarkable. I’ll remember it forever.”
Week 1 - Steve Griggs - Chief Executive Officer and President, Tampa Bay Lightning
Week 2 - Sophie Kotsopoulos - Senior Director of Integrated Marketing, National Hockey League
Week 3 - Mike McKenna - Former Director, Telecom, Media and Technology Investment Banking
Week 4 - Nicole Lee - Director of Integrated Marketing, National Hockey League
Week 5 - Mike Bartlett - Executive Director, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Foundation
Week 6 - Rebecca Watts - Manager, 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship
Week 7 - Hugh Lawson - Director of Business Development, Staples Promotional Products
Week 8 - Cheryl Pounder - Former Canadian National Women's Hockey Team Member
Week 9 - John Morris - 2010 Olympic Men's Curling Gold Medalist