If there ever was a story in which a media outlet raced to be the last to break the news, this was it. After bogus reports of Pat Burns’ death earlier this fall forced the coaching legend to proclaim that he’s still alive and fighting, the latest news of his passing was understandably met with skepticism.
Then slowly the confirmation trickled in Friday evening that Burns had lost his battle with cancer. This time it seemed real, and it was. First the New Jersey Devils, the team Burns coached to a Stanley Cup in 2002-03, issued a statement, with general manager Lou Lamoriello expressing his deepest condolences. Then several media outlets obtained confirmation from Burns’ family that the coach had indeed passed away in Sherbrooke, Quebec.
So at the age of 58, and with 501 wins under his belt while coaching the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, and the Devils, the NHL has lost a coaching legend far too soon.
There will be time to chastise the Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee for its decision to not induct Burns into hockey’s museum this year, and to give him the honour of being celebrated by his peers one last time. There are many fans and media members taking up that fight on Twitter.
But that’s a fight for another day. As the hockey world gives its thoughts to the Burns family, we’ll reflect back on two moments that show Burns’ character and passion towards the game, his teams, and his players.
These are merely slices of Burns’ 14-year coaching career, quick snapshots from yesteryear. But they offer a brief glimpse at a determined leader.
Reacting to the chaos of Wendel Clark
In what has always been a heated rivalry between the Leafs and Habs, Wendel Clark cranked the heat up a few notches and tried to take on anyone wearing a Canadiens sweater. Standing behind the Habs’ bench, Burns was instantly red-hot, defending his players while screaming some obscenities in the direction of Leafs coach Tom Watt.
Burns vs. Barry Melrose
When Marty McSorley took a cheap shot on Leafs star Doug Gilmour during Game 1 of Toronto’s Campbell Conference Final against the Kings, Burns was ready to fight Kings head coach Barry Melrose. It was the first game of a highly physical and emotional series, and Burns said he had already lost a tremendous amount of respect for his opponent.