To those who saw only his hockey persona, Pat Burns was a tough-talking, feisty and fiery ex-cop who became one of the most successful NHL coaches. Those who knew him admired him, his stories and his wise-cracking ways.
All will now serve as memories of Burns, who passed away on Friday at his home in Sherbrooke, Quebec after a lengthy bout with cancer. He was 58.
Word of his passing spread quickly and not surprisingly, so too did the praise and reminiscing.
“He was loyal to everybody he worked with and really loyal to his close friends. A hell of a guy,” former NHL head coach Ken Hitchcock noted to CKAC. “Pat was a special guy. He could really motivate players to play beyond their normal skill set and he really knew how to build teams.”
Patrick Roy got to witness that firsthand in Burns’ four years behind the Canadiens bench. It kicked off the Montreal native’s NHL coaching career, one that would last 15 seasons.
“I loved his enthusiasm,” he told reporters after coaching his Quebec Remparts on Friday night. “He had a sharp tongue and he was intense behind the bench. But what I liked a lot was he had flair, he could see what was going on during a game and really manage his bench well. He made it an art form to send out the right guys at the right moment.
“We’ll all miss him. We won’t see another one like him.”
Burns won the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach three times – with three different teams – in his career. To date, he holds the honour of being the only NHL bench boss to do so.
Former Canadiens winger Benoit Brunet played briefly under Burns in Montreal. The connection, though, was formed years earlier. Burns was the man in charge of the Hull Olympiques when Brunet debuted in the junior league in 1985.
“I learned to play hockey under Pat Burns. He also showed me how to carry myself both on and off the ice,” the winger acknowledged.
“The door to his office was always open. He was always available for his players,” added Brunet. “Being former police officer, he knew all about real life and we knew that we could confide in him about anything.”
Prior to last spring’s playoff run, Scott Gomez recalled his time as a New Jersey Devil guided by Burns.
“He was one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around. I’ve been lucky with all the coaches I’ve but Burnsy was definitely a guy that could come and light a room on fire,” the Canadiens centre told CKAC. “His presence alone, he taught us the other side of being a professional. … He just instilled that in our minds.
“He’s a wonderful man and he was great for hockey. I got a Stanley Cup ring because of Pat Burns and every time I look at that ring, I think of Burnsy.
“He was great.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who says differently.
Rest in peace, Pat. And may your hockey accomplishments soon finally find a well-deserved spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Must read: Bob McKenzie and Mansbreek (from September 2010)
See also: Canadiens mourn the passing of Pat Burns
Non-specified quotes gathered from various media sources were used in this report.