Pat Burns succumbs to cancer
Pat Burns, who went from tough-asnails police officer to one of the best defensive coaches in NHL history, died Friday after a long battle with cancer. He was 58. Burns, a native of Montreal’s hardscrabble St-Henri district, won 501 games in 15 seasons as an NHL coach with the Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils, which he led to the 2002-03 Stanley Cup title in his first season with the club.
“Pat was a close friend to us all, while dedicating his life to his family and to the game of hockey,” Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said in a statement.
“The hockey world has lost a great friend and ambassador. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Line, and the entire Burns family.”
He was the only coach in NHL history to win the Jack Adams Trophy as the league’s coach of the year three times, winning it with the Canadiens in 1988-89, the Leafs in 1992-93 and the Bruins in 1997-98.
After the Cup victory with New Jersey, Burns coached one more season with the Devils. When the Devils were knocked out of the 2003-04 playoffs, Burns announced he had been diagnosed with colon cancer, forcing him to retire as coach.
“For those who know me well, I’ve never backed down from any fight,” Burns said in 2004. “And I’m not going to back down from this one.”
He didn’t — fighting his battle with the class, dignity and humility that made him a beloved and respected coach.
He won that initial fight with the disease, but learned in 2005 that the cancer had returned, this time to his liver.
In January 2009, Burns announced he was facing a third fight with cancer. This time, it was incurable lung cancer and Burns decided to forgo treat- ment.
“That’s all done,” Burns told Rich Chere of the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger. “It wouldn’t do much. It’s not going to help. It’s a question of time, really.”
In his time as a police officer in the Quebec cities of Montreal and Hull (now known as Gatineau), Burns often worked his beat on the seat of a motorcycle. Riding Harley Davidsons became a passion.
Another passion was hockey, which he coached in his spare time.
His big break came in 1984 when Wayne Gretzky, then owner of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Hull Olympiques, hired Burns as coach.
After three seasons of major junior, Burns was hired to coach the Canadiens’ American Hockey League affiliate in Sherbrooke, Que.
A season later, Burns was hired to replace Jean Perron behind the Canadiens’ bench. Burns’ robust and vocal style was a stark contrast to the less-confrontational Perron.
The Canadiens responded to Burns’ coaching, posting the league’s best record at 53-18-9 (115 points) in 1988-89. The Canadiens reached the Stanley Cup final, but lost in seven games to the Calgary Flames.
After three more seasons in Montreal, Burns was fired, but he wasn’t out of work long as the Habs’ longtime rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs, hired him.
Burns and GM Cliff Fletcher helped turn around the moribund Leafs franchise and, in his third season with the team, Burns got the Leafs closer to reaching the Stanley Cup final than any coach since the Leafs’ last Stanley Cup win in 1967. The Leafs held a 3-2 series lead in the Western Conference final, but Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings rallied to win the series in seven games.
The Leafs fired Burns partway through the 1994-95 season.
The Bruins hired Burns as coach prior to the 1996-97 season, but the team found little playoff success.
The team finished out of the postseason in 1999-2000 and when the Bruins started the 2000-01 season with a 3-4-1 record, Burns was let go.
His years in Boston weren’t his favourite, but the sharp wit that made him one of the best quotes in the game was on display.
He once described coaching the under-manned Bruins to “going bear hunting with a butter knife.”
Two years after his dismissal in Boston, Burns found a perfect home with the Devils — a team whose hallmark is defence.
In his first season, Burns finally got the chance to hoist the Stanley Cup after the Devils dispatched the Anaheim Ducks in seven games.