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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Patrick (Pat) Burns : Montreal Canadiens Coach Remembered

It's a rare occassion when I sit down to write, that I don't know what to say.

All I knew, as I booted my Notebook and clicked the links to get me to this point, was that I felt something. I knew there was an emotion that I wanted to project onto this page, and share with my readers. But when I started to physically type the words, I had to begin again several times.

I've never been the type to feel particularly close to, or aligned with people of celebrity status, or those in the media. I have my thoughts on them, but I don't know them. We don't share moments together, so to pretend like I even have an understanding of them, as people, would be ludicrous. But there is a certain kinship that I think many people have felt with Pat Burns over the years. Undoubtedly, because of his ability to wear his heart on his sleeve, produce some exceptional results in his work (that most of the hockey world holds dear), and because he showed every soul that witnessed his life, what it meant to never give up.

You could always tell just by watching Burns behind the bench - even before being told - that he had been a "cop" in a previous career. He had both the stature and the demeanor. The ever watchful eye and the ability to analyze a scene were all prevalent in his coaching ways. But there was also a softness in his eyes. An understanding. You got the feeling that even when he didn't like what he was seeing from his players, he had the ability to coach them. More-so; mentor them.

And the results were the proof of the pudding so to speak. In 1019 games in the NHL, while coaching 4 different teams, Burns amassed 501 wins, 353 losses, 151 ties, and 14 OT losses. But the stat that probably says it all to me is his 3 Adams Trophies, which he gained with three separate teams - all being Original Six franchises. He is the only coach in the history of the league to gain that honour on so many occasions.

During his four seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Burns (who's record was 174-104-42) took the Habs to two first place finishes, one second place, and one third in the Adams Division. It also saw La Flanelle earn a berth in the Stanly Cup Final (1988-1989), only to lose to the President Trophy winning Calgary Flames in 6 games. To this date, it is the last time two Canadian teams have squared off in the Stanley Cup Final.

After moving on to both the Toronto Maple Leafs (1992 - 1996), and the Boston Bruins (1997-2001), from which he was fired on an equal number of occasions, Burns settled in behind the bench of the New Jersey Devils for the 2002-2003 season.

In his inaugural season with that franchise, Burns coached players like Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, and Scott Stevens, accomplishing the crowning jewel on his career, with a Stanly Cup Championship over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in seven games. A feat only accomplished by two coaches before him - also previous members of the Montreal Canadiens club - Jacques Lemaire, and Larry Robinson.

With an impressive record, trophy winning seasons, and a Stanley Cup ring - there was one underlying feature about Burns that consistently shone through. And that was his ability to never give up. Pat Burns was a fighter, and sadly - he was soon to find out after hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup, how important that quality would be for him.

Through battles with both colon cancer and liver cancer, Pat Burns always showed the heart of a champion. Stepping down from the forefront of the league after the second diagnosis, Burns battled on, until his third diagnosis - this time of incurable lung cancer. Deciding to forgo treatment, Pat Burns felt content in living out the balance of his days near his wife: Line.

Sadly, we lost Pat Burns yesterday. He finally succumbed to the disease that had been festering in him for many years. He died near his home in Sherbrooke Quebec.

But there are many things that the hockey community will take with them after his passing. Grit and determination can carry you a long way, and a quitters attitude has no place in this life. A sense of humour is paramount to what we all face on a daily basis (imagine the media reporting you're dead when you're not - and calling them up to remind them that you're still alive - shopping in the local market for your dinner). But mostly, we'll remember those soft eyes, and his incredible attitude. Even while facing death.

To Patrick Burns; we thank you for being more than an example of how to live both on and off the ice. And to your family, we offer our good wishes and prayers.

In His Own Words:

"I know my life is nearing its end and I accept that."

Gesturing to a group of local minor hockey players, he said: "A young player could come from Stanstead who plays in an arena named after me. I probably won't see the project to the end, but let's hope I'm looking down on it and see a young Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux."



Patrick Burns (April 4, 1952 – November 19, 2010)


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