Somerset's Jeff Burke hopes to continue hockey career
A former Somerset hockey standout has finished his collegiate career and is looking to move on to a higher level of hockey next year.
That player is Jeff Burke, son of Jim and Kathy Burke, who has been playing hockey since he was 3 years old. “I got started in hockey through my cousins. All my older cousins played hockey so they would take me down onto the ice to skate while babysitting me,” Burke said. Burke said some of his best memories were getting to play under his coach, and cousin, Dan Gilkerson. Gilkerson coached Burke when he played in midgets and moved on to later be his high school hockey coach when he played at Somerset High School. Gilkerson still holds that position. Burke has had success in hockey playing for the Wisconsin Fire youth team, Somerset High School, the Topeka Roadrunners and most recently, the UW-River Falls Falcons.While playing for the Wisconsin Fire, Burke played in a youth 16 national tournament. “When looking back at all my hockey memories my times with the Wisconsin Fire are still some of my favorite,” Burke said. He earned all-state honors twice playing for Somerset High School.“At Somerset I played with a lot of guys that moved to play at a high level of hockey,” Burke said. While playing for Topeka, Burke said his team lost only 15 games out of 125 in two years and the team won its division both years he played there. “I really liked my coach there. He helped with making practices fun and it was good experience playing juniors. It really taught me how to play the game,” Burke said.Burke won honorable mention all-WIAC three straight years playing for UW-RF. “Coach Steve Freeman and Coach Bob Ritzer helped me defensively and taught team defense which worked into my game,” Burke said. Burke said beating UW-Stevens Point last year in the first round of the conference tournament and winning the WIAC with 15 freshmen this year are two of his favorite collegiate memories. “If you would have told me at the beginning of the year we would win, I would say no way,” Burke said. Burke's head coach at UW-RF, Steve Freeman, said at the beginning of the year that Burke and his fellow upperclassmen defensemen were key in helping the freshmen adjust to the college level. “I think all successful teams build from the back to the front and our three returnees are working well with our newcomers,” Freeman said. Now that Burke has finished play at UW-RF he has already been busy figuring out where he will play next season. “There has been talk about going to a Swedish League for a tryout. It is a four-team public try out for the Swedish Elite League,” Burke said. While going to play in Sweden in an option Burke said he would rather stay in the United States. Over spring break he skated with the Peoria Rivermen in Illinois and hopes to play there for a bit. The Rivermen are a professional hockey team in the Southern Professional Hockey League. Burke is hoping to get a tryout next year for the Elmira (N.Y.) Jackals. The Jackals play in the Atlantic Division of the ECHL. Burke said a lot of players who play in the ECHL move on to higher levels of hockey. According to echl.com, 531 former ECHL players have played in the National Hockey League. “I am just happy that I get a shot to keep playing,” Burke said.