Pat Burns, RIP

Before Saturday’s game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, fans of both teams took a break from hurling insults at each other to honour the life of the man who coached Canada’s two Original Six franchises.

The raucous crowd at the Bell Centre fell quiet for a few minutes before the game to remember Pat Burns, who had passed away on Friday at the age of 58, after losing a battle to lung cancer.

One of the most successful coaches his era, Burns actually began his working life as a policeman in Gatineau, Que. And he brought a cop-like, no-nonsense attitude with him when he began coaching Montreal in 1988, leading the team to the Stanley Cup Finals. In 1992, he moved behind the Toronto bench, relying on his trademark passion and intensity to revive the moribund franchise. Then it was on to Boston and finally New Jersey, where he at last reached the pinnacle, coaching the Devils to a Stanley Cup in 2003.

Besides a winning record as a coach, Burns will always be remembered for his flashy suits and histrionics behind the bench. And for his ability to bring out the best in anyone who played for him. “Pat, you’re a hall of famer with the players, and that’s the main thing,” said Don Cherry in his Coach’s Corner segment on Saturday night.

After beating colon and liver cancer, Burns knew he was in for a difficult battle when, in 2009, he learned he had lung cancer. A tough guy until the end, he never gave into self pity or melancholy: “I know my life is nearing its end and I accept that. You don’t cry because it’s over, you’re happy because it happened.”

Read Rosie DiManno’s column remembering Pat Burns here.