Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Maple Leaf Cup of Coffee; Bill Burega

Bashin' Bill on the Toronto Maple Leafs blue line in the 1950's. The first thought is this is a reference to Bill Barilko the great young defender who perished in a plane crash in 1951. However, there was another Bashin' Bill...Burega, who had but a mere cup of coffee with the big club in 1955. Over these, his only four NHL games Bill Burega collected his only point, an assist and four minutes in penalties.

"Booger", another of Burega's nicknames was by all rights a poor-man's Barilko. Five years younger than Barilko, Burega was cut from the same cloth as a legitimate hard-checking defenceman, ending up in near the top of the penalty minute parade in every league he played. He was an inch taller and slightly heavier than Barilko but lacked the offensive talents of Barilko who scored at least  five goals in each full NHL season he played. While Barilko was scoring the winning goal for the 1951 Stanley Cup, 19 year-old Burega was helping his junior Winnipeg Monarchs make the Memorial Cup Finals only to lose to Barrie.

Burega turned pro in 1952/53, playing for the Glace Bay Miners in the Maritime Major League before joining the Maple Leafs organization in September 1953. He would bounce between Ottawa and Quebec of the QHL, Pittsburgh Hornets of the AHL and Winnipeg Warriors of the WHL. It was the fall of 1955 when he was really noticed by the Leaf brass, putting him on the radar for promotion to the big club. 

Canadian Press - Sept.16, 1955
Bill Burega continued as No.1 man on the Leaf thump parade.The first day in camp Burega collided with Bob Baun. Burega was cut for four stitches and Baun eight. The rugged Pittsburgh Hornet, making his second bid as a permanent Leaf, handed out at least five crushing body-checks causing smiles to the faces of general manager Hap Day and coach King Clancy.

Again, a month later his aggressive play was noted in the press.

Quebec Chronicle - Oct. 15, 1955
In an exhibition game played in Winnipeg, featuring the New York Rangers versus the Winnipeg Warriors, Bill Burega, blueline operator for the Warriors caused the New Yorkers considerable consternation with his bulling tactics on the Warrior blueline, especially opposing defencemen Jack Evans and Lou Fontinato. This caused Ranger coach Phil Watson to comment, "That Burega ain't wild, he's crazy!" Bashin' Bill will be the object of a lot of comments before the season is very old. 

In the new year of 1956  Burega was called up as an injury replacement on the Maple Leafs blue line. The boxscore of his only NHL point is below, a helper on Earl Balfour's goal with three minutes left in a 6-5 loss to the New York Rangers on January 14, 1956.

He was returned to Winnipeg for the remainder of the campaign and helped them to the Western League Championship, his third in three seasons (Quebec Aces 53/54, Pittsburgh Hornets 54/55 also). Burega played one last AHL season with Buffalo in 1956/57 (below) before playing his last six years in the Western League, finishing his pro career with Vancouver in 64/65. Burega continued at the Senior level mainly with the Kingston Aces of the OHA before hanging up the blades for good in 1970.

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