November 19, 2010
Pat Burns will be remembered for his countless contributions to hockey, which we'll review in a moment. But late in his life, Pat Burns became known for being the coach who died before he died.
In September, it was reported that Burns had passed away. Obituaries and memorials were published around the web at the speed of the spreading news.
The punchline, of course, was that Burns was very much not dead, telling Bob McKenzie of TSN, "They're trying to kill me before I'm dead. I come to Quebec to spend some time with my family and they say I'm dead. I'm not dead, far [expletive] from it. They've had me dead since June. Tell them I'm alive. Set them straight."
How fitting that one of the NHL's all-time greatest curmudgeons was given a chance to grumpily complain about his own death notice.
McKenzie wrote a very moving piece about Burns at the time, revealing his nickname for the coaching great to be "Mansbreek."Today, McKenzie confirmed Burns' passing with the following on Twitter: "RIP, Mansbreek."
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the following about Burns today:
"Just as they will remember Pat for his success as a coach, hockey fans also will remember his humor, his honesty, his humanity and his courage. As it mourns the loss of an outstanding contributor to the game, the National Hockey League sends heartfelt condolences to Pat's family and friends."
From the New Jersey Devils, Burns former team:
"On behalf of the ownership, management, staff, and players of the New Jersey Devils, we are all deeply saddened by the loss of Pat Burns," said Devils' President/CEO/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. He has been part of our family here in New Jersey for eight years. Today, the hockey world has lost a great friend and ambassador. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Line, and the entire Burns' family."
Hockey lost a legend today.
Not just a legend, but a legendary fighter. Burns was diagnosed with colon cancer during the 2003-04 season and beat it. He was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2005, and beat it. Then he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 2009, and Burns decided to forgo treatment but continued to soldier on.
As he battled lung cancer, an Internet campaign last season to get Burns elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame grew to over 71,000 fans strong. It was a memorable outpouring for one of the NHL's most successful coaches.
Burns won the Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2003. He left coaching after his third cancer diagnosis with a career record of 501-353-151-14, for 1,167 points and a .573 winning percentage. Before last postseason, he was eighth in NHL history with 78 playoff victories; making the postseason 11 out of 14 seasons with the Habs, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston Bruins and the Devils. He remains the only three-time winner of the Jack Adams award for coach of the year in NHL history, with Montreal (1989), Toronto (1993) and Boston (1998).
Having watching Burns coach the Devils to the Cup in 2003, I wrote the following for Pension Plan Puppets and a Pat Burns Tribute they planned on running:
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It was a strange sight. Stranger than seeing a New Jersey Devils team, that seemed a few years past its expiration date as a Stanley Cup champion, capture a third chalice in eight years. Stranger than seeing the vanquished opponent's goaltender skate away with the MVP. Stranger than seeing Oleg Tverdovsky win the first of two rings.
The sight was of Pat Burns, hoisting the Cup above his head and smiling. Grinning. Baring teeth in a joyous rather than a furious manner. The antithesis of the insufferable grump he was supposed to be.
He was an ex-cop hired to play bad cop for the Devils; an old-school coach no one else wanted behind their bench until an old school general manager decided he's what the Devils needed.
He played the role well, motivating the veterans and scaring the ever-loving crap out of the younger players. He pushed the right buttons: Inserting Mike Rupp in the Finals for an injured Joe Nieuwendyk, playing Ken Daneyko for the first time against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in a climactic Game 7.
Jacques Lemaire led the Devils to the 1995 Cup with a strangling defensive system that propelled them through the postseason tournament. Larry Robinson led them to the 2000 Cup by being a players' advocate and allowing what was arguably the most talented team in franchise history to excel.
Burns? He was a three-time Jack Adams nominated kick-in-the-backside this collection needed to squeeze one more championship out of them.
"Pat just kept the pedal to the metal all season," Daneyko told the AP after the Devils' Game 7 victory. "That was probably what was missing from the club in the past few years. He came in and was a no-nonsense guy. ... He's one of the tougher coaches I've ever played for, but it's well worth it."
Seven years later, he was still tougher than most of the coaches in this League.
• • •
R.I.P. Pat Burns, and condolences to his family and friends.