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Pat Burns, the head coach of the Boston Bruins from 1997-2000, passed away on November 19, 2010, at the age of 58 after a battle with lung cancer. The three-time Jack Adams Award-winner coached four different NHL teams over 14 seasons, accumulating a 501-350-161-14 record and a Stanley Cup Final victory in 2003 with the New Jersey Devils.
Burns, a former police officer in Gatineau, Québec, began his coaching career with the Hull Olympiques of the QMJHL in 1984. He was hired to coach the Sherbrooke Canadiens, Montréal’s former AHL affiliate, in 1987, before being promoted to coach Montréal in 1988. A 53-18-11 record and a loss in the Stanley Cup Finals in his first season as an NHL head coach earned him his first Jack Adams Award for best head coach. After losing in the second round of the playoffs for three straight seasons with the Canadiens, Burns moved onto the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he won his second Jack Adams Award for taking Toronto to the conference finals. His Maple Leafs made the playoffs the next two seasons, losing again in the conference finals and then the first round, respectively, before he was fired three-quarters of the way through the 1995-96 campaign.
Hired by the Boston Bruins in 1997 after the Bruins finished last in the league, Burns turned the team around with his no-nonsense attitude and disarming sense of humor, leading the team to 2nd-place in the Northeast Division and the second round of the playoffs. With such a turn-around, Burns was awarded his third Jack Adams Award, becoming the only coach to win the award three different times, an honor he holds to this day. Burns took the Bruins to the second round of the playoffs the following season, after which the Bruins failed to make the playoffs in 2000. He was fired at the start of the next season after opening with a 3-4-1 record.
After taking off the 2001-02 season, the New Jersey Devils hired Burns and he returned the favor with his first and only Stanley Cup Finals victory by ending the seventh-seeded Mighty Ducks’ of Anaheim Cinderella story in seven games in 2003. In the midst of the 2003-2004 campaign, Burns was diagnosed with colon cancer, which he beat, but he retired from head coaching at the end of the season after his diagnosis with liver cancer. The Devils retained him as a consultant, right up until his death.
In 2009, Burns was diagnosed with untreatable lung cancer, and on September 18, 2010, it was reported he had succumbed to the cancer after taking a turn for the worst. However, he was still very much alive, “far (expletive) from it”, he said in an interview, adding that the report was simply a “misunderstanding”. His last public appearance was made at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Pat Burns Arena at Stanstead College in Québec, which is scheduled to open next year. During the ceremony, Burns hinted that he knew his time was limited.
“I probably won’t see the project to the end, but let’s hope I’m looking down on it and see a young Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux [skating on it]… I know my life is nearing its end and I accept that. As for my career, I always said to my kids, ‘You don’t cry because it’s over, you’re happy because it happened.’ That’s the main thing. I’m happy it happened.’’
An unsuccessful petition was created online to get Burns into the Hockey Hall of Fame before his death, but it is unlikely he will be in the waiting room much longer. As Lou Lamoriello, CEO/president/GM of the New Jersey Devils said in a statement, “the hockey world has lost a great friend and ambassador”.
Cam Neely, president of the Boston Bruins, also released a statement on behalf of the organization, expressing his deep sorrow.
“Pat was a great coach and more importantly a wonderful man. The Bruins are honored to have him as a part of our history. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Burns family.”