Pat Burns Will Live On In All Of Our Hearts

November 22nd, 2010 No Comments

This weekend one of the best coaches in NHL history passed away after a long battle with cancer. While there is no question that hockey has lost a great coach, as good a coach as Pat Burns was, from all accounts he was an equally fine individual.

As a lifelong Toronto Maple Leaf fan I can recall the announcement that Burns was joining the Leafs, I was estatic. For many, it was the turning point in an otherwise lethargic franchises lineage, for, in Pat Burns, we all believed our team would be better.

Known for his hard work, ability to communicate with players, fairness and gruff demeanor behind the bench, Burns was the kind of coach that players would go through a wall for.

Like a super star player, Burns was as much of an icon in Toronto as anyone, in fact, at times; he may have been as big a figure as any one of his players.

Like every good leader, Burns always treated his troops with respect and dignity. He had an uncanny ability to find a players strength whether it be offensive, defense or otherwise and he had a knack for making that player feel just as important as the next.

Under Burns you would win as a team, lose as a team, it was really that simple.

Burns’ energy and passion often ran through the veins of his players, resulting in more than a few players having career years under Burns.

Burns’ resume reads like a virtual Hockey Hall of Fame Biography. In his first season as an NHL coach (1988-89) Burns led the Montreal Canadiens to an impressive 53-18-9 record.

The Canadiens would lose in the Stanley Cup Final that season, but what they gained in Burns would more than make up for the tough loss.

Burns came way with his first Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL’s best coach, an impressive feat for anyone, an even bigger accomplishment considering it was his rookie year as an NHL head coach.

Burns would lead the Canadiens back to another Adams Division title in 1991-92, only to sign on with the Toronto Maple Leafs the following season.

In his first season with the Maple Leafs he led a lunch pail bunch to a 43-29-12 record, eventually bowing out in the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Burns would stay behind the Maple Leafs bench until the 1995-95 season, eventually getting fired at the 65 game mark of the season.

It was a sad day in Toronto, an end of an era and, despite some decent work behind the bench from Pat Quinn, the Maple Leafs franchise really hasn’t had the kind of “swagger” it had when Burns was behind the bench.

From there Burns would join another Original Six team in the Boston Bruins where had some decent regular season success, but never found a way to translate that into a long playoff run.

Still in search of his first Stanley Cup Burns joined the New Jersey Devils organization in 2002-03, leading them to a Stanley Cup victory.

It was a long time coming for a coach who probably deserved a better fate in the playoffs on more than one occasion; a proud moment for a proud man who, to this day is regarded as one of the best coaches in NHL history. 

Along the way Burns picked up an NHL record three Jack Adams Trophies as the NHL’s coach of the year (1988-89 (Montreal), 1992-93 (Toronto) and 1997-98 (Boston)). It’s an impressive feat and, given the legendary coaches in his company that never won three Jack Adams awards, perhaps a record that will go unbroken.

Unlike many NHL coaches, if you had the honor of having Pat Burns behind your bench you knew he stood for something, something that made your team, players and organization better.

Needless to say, Burns will be in the NHL Hall Of Fame someday (probably should have been elected this summer prior to his passing). There is no doubt that he was a special man, a special talent and a special coach.

Burns owns a career coaching record of 501-353-151-14. His 501 career wins ranks him 14th overall, one win ahead of the legendary Toe Blake.

Recently, with Burns battling lung cancer (he survived colon cancer and liver cancer), many NHL fans have taken the time to learn about the man they call “Burnsie” and reflect on his life, both behind the bench and on a personal level.

As the saying goes, they don’t make ‘em like Burnsie anymore.

In a fitting tribute an arena is being built at Stanstead College that will don his name. While I think we’d all agree that we do not need an arena with Burns name on it to remember him by the arena will serve as a tremendous gesture that will help to keep Burns’ name alive.

Pat Burns will be laid to rest today. He will be sadly missed.

Rest in peace Mr. Burns…and thanks for the memories.

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