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Laurier Grads Soar: Denise Burke
Laurier Grads Soar is a multi-part series that has returned for the 2017-18 year. The segment features former Wilfrid Laurier University 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, different features will be released throughout the year that will emphasize the role Athletics and Recreation played in helping them achieve succes.

Denise Burke- President of the Niagara Ice Dogs

Denise Burke is one of the top female hockey executives in Canada.

Bright, knowledgeable and with an on-going quest for learning, Burke knows she has a high profile in the community, but she’s not one to sit behind a desk at the stunning New Meridian Centre and watch the days pass by.

As President of the Niagara Ice Dogs, Burke is accountable for plans, actions and, among many other things, the direction taken by coaches, players and staff of the Ontario Hockey League team.

It’s a huge task, but one Burke thrives on – and she’s also making a huge difference in decision-making responsibilities in the community-at-large.

“I love my job and would have never thought I’d be doing something like this,” said Burke. “I surprised myself in having accomplished a lot in a predominantly male business.”

Elegant, ambitious and very much into goal-setting, Burke is modest, admits to having a shy streak, but does more in the executive world than making suggestions, she gets things done.

“As a business, we run a hockey team,” she said. “But, we can’t push aside that we’re also dealing with the growth, maturity and development of young hockey players.”

Born in the Air Force community of Valparaiso, Fla., her family moved to Canada and settled in Whitby. Now, a resident of the Niagara Region, that journey started while studying at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo.

A graduate of Henry Street High School, five years on the academic honor roll, too, she was quite active in sports, excelling in volleyball and gymnastics. Oh yes, she was a member of the cheerleading squad.

“I was recruited by York University and went to see the campus – it was huge, just too big,” she remembered. “ I was a small town girl and wanted something that was more homey.

“Then, I went to Laurier. It was smaller, everything was compact and it seemed like a boutique school. I loved it and being a student there and getting a great education.”

There was more than just being focused on education.

Very active playing varsity volleyball at Laurier, Burke – then Denise Harrison – played in the intramural powder puff football league and scored the winning touchdown in a championship game. Her coach, also a student and varsity football player, would become the man she married.

“Some great memories of my days at Laurier, a power hitter on the volleyball team– and I remember reminding (Bill) of my success as a football player,” said Burke.

It was in 1982 that Laurier was the site of something you don’t often hear about at a university.

“Bill and I were married in the chapel at WLU, reception at Wilfs (one of the popular restaurants near campus), dinner in the Laurier dining hall, dancing up in the Turret and all of our guests stayed in residence.  It was very unique and a whole lot of fun,” she said.

With a genuine personality, Burke is a tell-it-like-it-is person.

Having graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Physical Education, her initial plan was to continue her education – but as a teacher. But it was a different path that she took and chose to work in a family printing business.

“I remember the time when my husband bought a hockey team and the Mississauga Ice Dogs would find a new home in St. Catharines as the Niagara Ice Dogs,” she said. “When I look at what I do, there is a different kind of teaching component in my job.”

A former Executive of the Year award winner, and always with a rationale message of endurance and flexibility, Burke has a business acumen making quick decisions and using smart judgment. Among the many community initiatives, Burke has developed an anti-Bullying campaign for the Niagara-area schools.


David Grossman is a veteran award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 40+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.

Previous Features
Steve Griggs - Chief Executive Officer and President, Tampa Bay Lightning
Sophie Kotsopoulos - Senior Director of Integrated Marketing, National Hockey League
Mike McKenna - Former Director, Telecom, Media and Technology Investment Banking
Nicole Lee - Director of Integrated Marketing, National Hockey League
Mike Bartlett - Executive Director, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Foundation
Rebecca Watts - Manager, 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship
Hugh Lawson - Director of Business Development, Staples Promotional Products
Cheryl Pounder - Former Canadian National Women's Hockey Team Member
John Morris - 2010 Olympic Men's Curling Gold Medalist
Bill Burke- Chief Executive Officer and Owner, Niagara Ice Dogs
Tania Pedron- Manager of Administration and Operations at Maple Leafs Sport and Entertainment
Wayne Kemick- BMO Wealth Advisor
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