Burton 40: Laird Bilinski
In the beginning of Burton Hockey, and even before the league back in the schoolyard days, Laird Bilinski was the archetypal little brother; a petulant whipping boy for the older kids. In a small town such as Burton, however, they needed him for the numbers. Little did we realise back in 2000 just how integral Laird would be to the success of Burton Hockey. He was a core original right from the beginning, and in time, he would become one of the better goaltenders in Burton Hockey, the all-time most dedicated goalie and one of the most dedicated players in history.
A gawky 16-year-old wearing a Vancouver Canucks sweater with 'McLean' (or rather, 'McClean') stenciled in a homemeade fashion on the back, the younger brother of Lorne was put into goaltending duty that very first session in April of 2000 in a 99-save performance that remained one of the top five rookie totals for over nine years. From that point forward, Laird became the most dependable goalie in BUSH, playing 70 games in net that first season. It was often hilarious just how far out of the net Laird would come to challenge opponents (which cost him at times), but it was also a reflection of his desire to be involved in every facet of the game. In fact, Laird has nearly 100 career points from goal. No one comes close to that mark. Laird also spent just as much times playing out on skates, where he could score quite a few goals. In and out of the net, the teenage Laird had a bit of a hard time controlling his emotions against players four and five years older than he was; expletives and stick-smashing were a regular feature of his appearances.
Over the years, Laird slowly moved away from skating and began to play goal on a more frequent basis. In his early years, he was dependable but erratic. As he grew into his body and developed his goaltending skills, however, Laird began climbing into the elite ranks of Burton netminders, breaking out in 2002 with a then-record .853 season average and an incredible 20 saves-per-game average, single-season marks that only the O'Connor brothers have been able to beat. Donning his trademark white Vancouver orca, Laird's deceptively large frame covered the Burton nets like a glove. His development was so great that for a time he was not only the most reliable goalie in Burton, but the best goalie period, twice winning Most Outstanding Goaltender.
Since 2004, work has kept Laird on the road most of the year and his appearances are less frequent. Still, he always manages to get in a few appearances each season. He's also managed to be a frequent guest star in VRH, where he only ranks behind Bron Mach in all-time goaltending. The little kid is gone; Laird is a rather easy-going guy these days, amiable and with a great cheesy sense of humour. The only challenge these days is tracking him down to play! Laird remains the all-time leader in games goaltended and second in saves. On his best days in net, he is absolutely unbeatable. Were Laird playing full-time, it would be kind of scary to see what he could do once the rust was off and the conditioning came back. As the biggest backbone in Burton Hockey history, Laird Bilinski is in the Burton 40.
Awards: Goaltending Champion: 2006; Most Outstanding Goaltender: 2002, 2005; Dual Threat of the Year: 2002; 1st All-Star: 2002g, 2005g; 2nd All-Star: 2001, 2008g; Most Dedicated Team: 2001, 2002, 2005.
Previous Burton 40 Articles
Ben de Wit