I first became aware of Pat Burns when I was living in Ottawa and he was the brash young bilingual coach of the Hull Olympiques, just across the river. He stood out because he wasn’t like most coaches; he wore leathers and rode a Harley on days off, and he was a cop when he began making his way up the coaching ranks.
And although he could be a charmer, he could also explode with the best of them when his players weren’t behaving as they should, and pictures of the ex-cop fuming were seen often in local papers.
Everyone knew not to mess with Pat Burns, then and later. He was a man’s man who had friends in hockey and friends on the edges of society. This was someone who was at ease with all types, maybe because of his days patrolling the mean streets. My friend Gary lupul, who played for Canucks and who also passed away, was the same type of guy – completely at home with guys who had graduated from the school of hard knocks, guys with pasts. It’s a quality both of them had and not all of us have.
Pat Burns fought the fight and has lost, and we’ve lost a great man, plain and simple. He was well aware his time was coming quickly but being the tough hombre he was, he battled to the end with strength and grace.
Thank you, Pat, for what you did as a leader of men, and especially, from a Montreal Canadiens fan, what you did during those four years in Montreal, taking them to the finals in your first at-bat, and winning Coach of the Year for your expertise. And in the following three years, you led our team into the second round each time and you did it with flair, humour, and sometimes rage. I think the old Forum must have shuddered and trembled at some of your classic explosions when things weren’t going as planned.
Maybe that’s why they had to close the Forum – you weakened the foundation.
It must be an incredibly sad day for all who knew this fine hockey man and person, and it’s a sad day for hockey in general.
And how great would it have been if those who make Hall of Fame decisions had put this ex-cop in when he could have been there to receive the honour in the flesh.
After all, he was Coach of the Year three times and won a Stanley Cup. Wasn’t that enough?