Former Leafs coach Pat Burns dies of cancer
Published Friday, November 19, 2010 8:51PM EST
Former NHL coach Pat Burns, who led the Toronto Maple Leafs on a memorable playoff run in 1993 and won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2003, died Friday of cancer at age 58.
The disease first surfaced in 2004, appearing in his colon and liver. In January 2009, doctors had found the disease in his lungs.
He initially decided to forgo any treatment, then decided to try chemotherapy in an attempt to extend his life.
Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke issued a statement Friday evening expressing the club's sympathies to Burns's family and friends.
Wendel Clark, a former Toronto Maple Leafs captain, told CTV News Channel: "Pat made a huge fight. … It takes a personality and a will like Pat's to be fighting as long as he was."
Clark described Burns as a "tough father figure" to all the players he coached.
"He was one of the gruff taskmasters," but the coaching persona was there to make players stronger and to bind the team together, he said.
"Outside the game, away from the rink, in the summertime, if you ran into him as a player, he was a totally different person. That was the Pat who was the friend to the players," Clark said.
Burns loved the game, life and all the players he coached, he said.
Former Leafs goaltender Felix "the Cat" Potvin, who started with the Leafs under Burns, described him as the best coach he ever had.
Burns grew up in a working-class household near the old Montreal Forum, but would later move to Gatineau, Que. after his father died and his mother remarried.
His first career was as a police officer in Hull, but soon began coaching minor hockey. As head coach of the then-named Hull Olympiques, he took his team to the 1986 Memorial Cup final.
A new owner bought the team -- Wayne Gretzky, then in his heyday with the Edmonton Oilers. He convinced Burns to become a full-time coach, guaranteeing him he would make the NHL some day.
Burns then went to Sherbrooke, Que. to coach the Montreal Canadiens' AHL team. After one year there, he was behind the bench of his hometown club, the Montreal Canadiens.
In his first season in 1988-89, he took the club to the Stanley Cup finals, losing to the Calgary Flames.
He won 174 games during his four-season stay in Montreal, but eventually got fed up.
Cliff Fletcher, then the Leafs' general manager, offered him a job. In the 1992-93, Burns led the Leafs to conference finals, in part because Fletcher had brought in gritty players such as centre Doug Gilmour.
In the playoffs that year, Burns met up with the Los Angeles Kings, the new club of his old boss Gretzky.
“Most fans will remember seeing Doug Gilmour being clipped by Wayne Gretzky’s stick in overtime in Game 6 at the L.A. Forum," the Toronto Maple Leafs say on the club's website.
"Referee Kerry Fraser would not call a penalty on the ‘Great One’, and Gretzky eventually scored the winning overtime goal to force Game 7 where the Kings beat the Leafs 5-4."
That would be the closest the Leafs would come to a trip to the Stanley Cup finals in about a quarter-century.
In 1993-94, the Leafs went to the final four a second time before losing to the Vancouver Canucks.
The next season, the Leafs didn't make it past the first round, and by the 1995-96 season, Burns was an ex-coach of the Leafs. He achieved a record of 133-107-41 in 281 games. That puts him tied with Red Kelly as the fifth-winningest coach in the team's history.
After the Leafs
It would be a year before Burns returned behind the bench, this time to coach the Boston Bruins.
As a result of his work with Montreal, Toronto and Boston, Burns would win the Jack Adams trophy as the NHL's top coach three times.
After his time ended in Boston eight games into his fourth season in 2000, Burns worked in broadcasting before getting the call from Lou Lamoriello, general manager of the New Jersey Devils in 2002.
In the 2002-03 season, Burns would lead the Devils to a Stanley Cup triumph, the only time he would hoist the cherished mug.
On March 30, 2004, he achieved his 500th victory as an NHL coach. But that year, cancer first developed in his body.
In July 2005, Burns' career as an NHL coach ended, although he worked on the coaching staff of the Canadian team at the IIHF world championships in Halifax in 2008 when his health rebounded.
He continued to do some scouting and consulting work for the Devils even after his third diagnosis, along with some hockey commentaries for Montreal French-language radio station CKAC.
"We are all deeply saddened by the loss of Pat Burns," said Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello.
"Pat was a close friend to us all, while dedicating his life to his family and to the game of hockey ... Today, the hockey world has lost a great friend and ambassador."
Burns' last public appearance came in October, when he attended the groundbreaking ceremony of a Stanstead, Que. hockey arena to be named for him. At that time, he acknowledged the end was coming.
He also showed his famous growly side after news reports erroneously said he had died. "I'm not dead yet," he declared.
Burns would achieve a lifetime record of 501 wins, 353 losses, 151 ties and 14 overtime losses in the NHL.
He leaves behind his wife, son and daughter.
TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie told News Channel that in the coming days, that people will remember Burns' flare and colour as much as his coaching skills.
Although Burns didn't make it into the Hockey Hall of Fame before he died, Lamoriello predicted that admission to the hall -- the ultimate hockey honour -- will eventually be bestowed on Burns.
With files from The Canadian Press