Brendan Burge knew in his heart it was the right thing to do.
As the due date for his first child grew nearer, the 20-year-old forward for the Fernie Ghostriders found it increasingly difficult to focus on playing hockey.
With his girlfriend Becka expecting any day, Burge found his mind wandering from the ice in Fernie to his family in Invermere.
On December 2, everything changed.
Shortly after 4 a.m. Bodene Raleigh Rogal Burge entered the world — and Brendan became a father.
“She’s just the cutest thing I’ve seen in my whole life,” Burge said of his new daughter. “It’s just an amazing feeling.”
And while Burge has embraced his new role as a dad, it came with another tough decision — to part ways with the Fernie Ghostriders, his hockey team for the past three seasons.
Burge will play the remainder of the season with the Columbia Valley Rockies, so he can be close to his family.
“Playing in Fernie in the last couple of years has been one of the better times in my hockey career. I’ve been treated better there than anywhere else in my life,” Burge said. “Things came up in my life where family became a part of it, and I have a little baby girl now. The way I look at it is family is everything, and hockey is a game.”
While the decision was not an easy one, in the end it was the right thing to do.
“The closer we got to her due date, the more my gut just couldn’t leave. I wanted to go back, but I didn’t,” Burge said, sounding wise beyond his years. “I felt like I had to make a decision based on my gut, and in the end it was right.”
Heading into the season, Burge had every intention of finishing his junior career with the Riders. His billets in Fernie were aware of his situation, and more than willing to help.
“I know people have done it, and I probably could have done it in Fernie, but I feel like I would have wanted to be at home with them too much. I really appreciate everyone who offered to help try to make it work.”
Making the decision easier for Burge, Ghostriders head coach Barry Wolff fully supported the move. And while it wasn’t easy for Wolff to part ways with his best player, it reflects on the coach’s emphasis on a family-first mentality.
“It was really the best way anyone could have handled it,” Burge said. “He was very upfront and very forward, and I understand that I was a big part of the team in Fernie, but Barry was very understanding of the decision I made.”
Burge said it was an honour to play for Wolff, who even made a point to send a gift to the new family.
Teammates were also supportive of Burge’s decision.
“When I broke the news to them, they were so understanding. Obviously they didn’t want to see me go, which made it that much tougher, but they were all very supportive,” Burge said. “It was a really tough thing to do, but I couldn’t ask for better guys to have my back. I’ve made some of my best friends playing hockey in Fernie.”
Josh McKissock, the Ghostriders captain, acknowledged that Burge’s departure leaves a hole on the roster, but said it opens the door for other players to increase their role.
“It’s something we’re definitely feeling. But guys are starting to step up, and we’ve got a lot of character on this team.”
Burge admits it will be strange to play against his former teammates. But at the end of the day, he knows he made the right decision.
“Looking back on it, I don’t have any regrets. I get to see my baby girl every day, be with my girlfriend, and most of all, we get to be a family the right way.”
— Matt Laurin, Fernie Free Press