Today is a sad day in the hockey world because we lost a great coach and a great man when Pat Burns passed away at the age of 58 after a long battle with cancer. He coached in 1,019 NHL games (505-353-151) over 14 seasons for Montreal, Toronto, Boston and New Jersey. He is the only coach in the history of the league to win the Jack Adams Trophy (coach of the year) with three different teams, and he won his only Stanley Cup Championship in 2003 with the Devils.
When I think of coach Burns, I think of the time when I was just starting my journalism career, attending games at the Meadowlands as an intern with Stan Fischler. The first training camp I went to was in September 2002 and what I saw shocked the crap out of me — during a drill that the coach was running on the ice, if a player made a mistake, no matter who they were, they had to roll around on the ice like a log. So there I am, my first time watching training camp in person, and I’m watching two former Conn Smythe winners/two multiple Cup winners — Scott Stevens and Joe Nieuwendyk — rolling around on the ice in front of everyone. That showed me that he commanded respect, and had it, and that his players were willing to do anything for him to reach their ultimate goal — the Stanley Cup. He was tough, but fair and reminded me a lot of my father, who also was a cop…but not a hockey coach.
Burns, who was a police officer before becoming a full-time hockey coach, had gotten teams close to the championship in his previous stops, but during the spring of 2003 everything came together for his Devils and he guided them to their third Cup in eight years. It was a shame that he wasn’t voted into the Hall-of-Fame this past year, but I think one day soon he will receive that honor; if it never happens, it will be a shame, but in a lot of ways, he is there already. His records speak for them self, and his name is etched onto the Stanley Cup, which in my mind is kind of a cooler thing to have anyway, because you don’t have to be a great player to get your name on it — you just need to be part of a great team.
Coach Burns will be missed, but I will never forget my experiences being around him and I will always remember that spring when the team I cared about gave me something to take my mind off of the personal loss that I was going through.