x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pat Burns: a hockey great

The hockey world lost a favourite son last Friday when Pat Burns succumbed to cancer at age 58.

Pat Burns reacts to a referee’s call behind the Canadiens’ bench during an NHL game in Montreal in 1989.
Pat Burns reacts to a referee’s call behind the Canadiens’ bench during an NHL game in Montreal in 1989.

The hockey world lost a favourite son last Friday when Pat Burns succumbed to cancer at age 58.

It was his third battle with the disease in recent years. This time, he decided against chemotherapy treatments and, in true Burns style, toughed it out and fought on his own terms.

Burns was a Stanley Cup champion, winning as a coach with New Jersey in 2003. He also coached three "Original Six" teams: Montreal, Toronto and Boston, and he made an impact with all three tradition-drenched clubs.

He was named the NHL's coach of the year in his first season with the Canadiens, Leafs and Bruins, respectively. He also is the only NHL coach to win the award three times.

Burns is remembered for his hard-nosed approach, but he was also beloved by his players for his character and honesty. He was demanding and abrupt, yet understanding and compassionate.

Here is a review of the career coaching highlights of a man who left an indelible mark on the game of hockey.

Wins Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 2003. In Burns's 13th season as an NHL coach - and his first year with the Devils - the veteran finally won the championship. It was his only Cup victory, although he led the Canadiens to the 1989 finals in his first year with Montreal and had a couple of magical runs to the Eastern Conference finals with Toronto in the early 1990s.

Named coach of Montreal in 1988. Burns, a former police officer who had coached junior hockey in Quebec, entered the NHL with its most storied club. His no-nonsense approach resonated with players and fans alike, and his popularity among the Canadiens' passionate supporters was cemented when Montreal advanced to the Stanley Cup finals. The Canadiens lost in six games to Calgary, but it was a memorable debut season for a coach who would provide many more memories over the next 15 years.

After taking over the Leafs in 1992, a successful first season elevated Burns to hero status in hockey-mad Toronto. The Leafs made it to Game 7 of the conference finals against the Los Angeles Kings before falling short to Wayne Gretzky's club. However, Burns and the Leafs treated Toronto to another extended play-offs run the following season, again reaching the conference finals.

Named coach of Boston in 1997. Burns once again was named the NHL's coach of the year in his first season behind the bench of a new team. Burns's arrival coincided with Joe Thornton's rookie season; the gruff coach brought the 18-year-old prodigy along slowly, limiting his ice time and exposure to situations that might wreck his confidence.

501 victories. Burns's NHL record was 501-363-165, placing him among the top 20 winners in league history.

He had just one losing record in 14 seasons. His teams always improved under his direction and leadership. His players always testified to his honesty, his leadership, his preparation and his passion.

Rest in peace, Pat Burns.

sports@thenational.ae