Brent Burns had no idea what was going on when the San Jose Sharks gathered in their locker room at their practice facility one day this month. The players' fathers were there, in town for their annual trip with the team, and a video started playing.
It showed footage shot from a drone flying high above Burns' 420-acre Texas ranch. More than 100 animals lined the road, and two new ones walked onto the property — gemsboks, or large South African antelopes.
They were among the gifts from Burns' teammates to celebrate his 1,000th NHL game, in which he scored the winner in a 4-2 victory against the Anaheim Ducks at SAP Center on Dec. 27.
The significance isn't just that Burns owns exotic animals. It's that his teammates knew Burns had a male gemsbok and was looking for a female, and that they worked with his ranch manager to find two to help him build a herd. The females happen to be pregnant already, due in about a month.
"That's going to be in our family for a long time," Burns said, smiling. "Those genetics will be passed down, and they'll be at our ranch for us to have our coffees and look at every morning. Our favorite thing to do is just drive around all day. We just go on little safaris all the time."
It isn't just that the Sharks accept Burns for who he is, either. It's that they love him for it, and by making him comfortable, building his confidence, improving his game and surrounding him with other talented players, they have brought out his best as a player and as a person. He benefits from their culture and contributes to it.
Burns won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman in 2016-17.