The hockey world has lost a giant among men. Pat Burns lost his battle with lung cancer yesterday at the age of 58. National Hockey League fans will remember Mr. Burns as the coach who guided the 2002-2003 New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup championship. Perhaps even more impressive were his three Jack Adams Awards as the NHL’s coach of the year. Burns is the only coach in NHL history to accomplish that feat. He won his first two awards when he coached in Montreal and Toronto. His third award came as coach of the Boston Bruins. He spent 3+ seasons in Boston.
Mr. Burns took the reigns of the B’s at the start of the 1997-1998 season. The prior season was an unquestionable disaster as the club won just 24 games and missed the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in 29 years. In Burns’ initial season, the black and gold won 39 games, finished second in their division, and qualified for the playoffs only to lose in the eastern conference quarterfinals to the Washington Capitals in 6 games. Burns turned around a club that had been in shambles, instilled a new culture by holding players accountable for their mistakes and in doing so restored the passion and pride that was symbolic of Boston Bruins teams throughout the organization’s history and in turn, was named the recipient of the Jack Adams Award.
The following season, 1998-1999, saw the Bruins finish with the identical record to the previous season of 39 wins, 30 losses, and 13 ties but the team advanced to the second round of the playoffs by defeating Carolina in six games before bowing out to the Buffalo Sabres in another six game series. Bruins fans were quite happy with the results Mr. Burns was getting from his charges.
1999-2000 saw a Bruins team struggle with injuries and inconsistent play. The team, reportedly, agreed to captain Ray Bourque’s request to be traded and moved him along with forward Dave Andreychuk to the Colorado Avalanche. The organization received a young Brian Rolston in return for the two future Stanley Cup champions. The Bruins finished out of the playoffs and unfortunately for Burns, his time as coach was nearing an end.
The organization decided to keep Burns and see how the 2001-2002 season would begin for him and the team. The B’s won 3 of their first 8 games and Burns was relieved of his duties as head coach of the Boston Bruins.
During his tenure, Pat Burns took an 18 year old center from the Ontario Hockey League, Joe Thornton, and gave him the foundation and confidence to be a star in the NHL. Under Burns, Thornton had seasons of 7, 41, and 60 points. Thornton’s 60 points led the Bruins in scoring in just his third NHL season.
Burns’ biggest triumph came the year after he was released by Boston as he would guide the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup championship in 2002-2003 but he will be forever remembered in Boston as a demanding coach who expected his players to give 100% each time they stepped on the ice. He was one of the most popular coaches with the Boston public. Bruins fans appreciated Burns’ work ethic, honesty, and fiery personality on the bench. Upon crossing paths with Mr. Burns many times, I can honestly say that I never saw him turn down a request for an autograph or just to say a quick hello with Bruins fans, especially children. The former police detective from St. Henri, Quebec was a classy gentleman. The hockey world, indeed, the world is a much better place for having had Pat Burns in it.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Burns.
For more on the career of Pat Burns read Frank Rekas’ piece here http://toomanymenonthesite.com/2010/11/19/rest-in-peace-pat-burns-you-will-be-missed-but-always-remebered/