Tag Archives: Hull Olympiques

Pat’s Time

I worked in Hull, Quebec at the E.B. Eddy paper mill in the mid to late-1970s when Pat Burns was a local cop there.

I never met him. I just thought it was a good opening paragraph.

I’ll bet as a cop, Burns was a beauty. Tough as nails. No nonsense.  We saw how ferocious he was as a coach. Smart-ass punks would have stood no chance.

The ex-cop has now been chosen as part of the 2014 Hall of Fame gang, along with Dominik Hasek, Mike Modano, Rob Blake, Peter Forsberg, and referee Bill McCreary.

Who knows why Burns wasn’t picked five or ten years ago? Maybe he’d ruffled some feathers before he passed away in 2010 from cancer.

This was a tough hombre who wouldn’t have stood for any guff from legends in their own minds who run various branches of hockey, including members of the HOF selection committee.

The bottom line is, he was a strong and successful coach who deserved to be placed in the Hall. There are plenty in there who are debatable choices, but not Pat Burns.

It was Wayne Gretzky, who owned the Hull Olympiques from 1985 to 1992, who convinced Pat to quit the beat and coach the Quebec Junior team full time. It worked out beautifully.

Of course it did. Because everything Gretzky touched back then seemed to turn to gold.

As a coach, when Pat Burns wasn’t raging, he seemed as likeable as can be in interviews, and by many accounts was popular and personable to everyone he wasn’t collaring or coaching or happened to be near when he was in a foul mood.

He admitted it was tough in Montreal with the pressure from media and fans, he didn’t always handle things in a cool and calm manner, and I’m sure at times, reporters would tread lightly after a tough loss. Would you want a pissed off Pat Burns glaring at you?

He was behind the Habs bench for just four years, his learning years as an NHL coach from 1988 to 1992, and was awarded the Jack Adams Award in 1989 for top coach in the league after taking the boys to the Cup finals before falling to the Terry Crisp-coached Calgary Flames.

(I wrote a letter to my sister in Calgary before that ’89 series had started, giving my prediction along with a little made-up series review which I titled “Pat Burns Terry to a Crisp”)

Next stop was Toronto, where he led the Buds from 1992 to ’96, and where he’d win the Adams in 1993. And from there it was four years with the Bruins (1997 to 2001),  where he’d earn a third Jack Adams Award, this one in 1998.

It sucked to see Pat Burns running the bench in Toronto and Boston. It always sucks to see a beloved Hab in those enemy uniforms.

Following Boston it was the New Jersey Devils in 2002-03 for Burns where he’d win the Stanley Cup, and then one final year after that with the Devils before being diagnosed with colon cancer.

A great career, successful almost everywhere he coached. And on Monday, November 17, 2014, eleven years after his final line change, we’ll see Pat inducted.

Late, but better late than never.


Ralph And Collette’s Big Night On The Town

Ralph was a guy I’d cross the street to avoid when I was a kid because Ralph liked to pummel other kids just for fun. That’s what greasers did in small towns. Pummel. Or pretend they were going to pummel.

So it took me another 15 years before I liked the guy. When I felt my health wasn’t in danger anymore.

Ralph was as greaser as you get. Slicked-back hair, leather jacket, chains, foul-mouthed, uncouth, liked to fight.

He also had lousy childhood – was poor, probably started fights as soon as he could walk, who didn’t fit in in most places, and if it wasn’t guys he was fighting out on the street, it was cops he was running from or getting handcuffed by.

I really wanted nothing to do with him. My life was about counterculture, something Ralph didn’t get whatsoever.

In our 20’s, Ralph and his new maniac wife Collette ended up living in Ottawa at the same time as me, and we all became friends somehow. He made me laugh like crazy. I was always laughing. I remember at my stag Ralph stuck his head in a container of ice and water until he was almost blue, and the next day I was driven home and Ralph fell out of the car and swam around in mud in the driveway.

We decided to make a night of it once, which meant taking Ralph and Collette to a fancy steakhouse, something which neither had ever been to before. They had never had a decent steak.

At the restaurant, Ralph’s steak came, a lovely little bundle of expensive meat, coming the way it usually comes. Ralph looked at it on his plate and asked the waitress where the steak was, that he wouldn’t pay two cents  for a little turd like that. We convinced him to try it and when he did, his eyes lit up, dove into it, and declared the steak to be the finest thing he’d ever eaten.

The best thing that ever happened to Ralph and Collette came next, as we drove across the bridge to Hull to see the Olympiques play Trois Rivieres. Ralph and Collette weren’t big hockey fans but came with us anyway.

During the game a fight started on the ice, and Ralph yelled and probably shouted obsenities, but then that one small fight escalated into possibly the biggest hockey brawl I’ve ever seen. Every player, fans, blood all over the ice. Kind of like an old Habs-Nordiques donnybrook.

How beautiful was this for Ralph and Collette? They stood and shouted and laughed and threw phantom punches, and they were in seventh heaven as the thing went on for a long time, and kept Ralph and the old lady entertained liked they’d never been entertained before .

What a night for Ralph and Collette. They ate expensive steaks for the first time and saw a huge brawl at the game. Kind of a perfect evening, I suppose. I know I enjoyed it.

Eventually everyone went their separate ways but I would hear various pieces of news now and again that kind of closed the chapter completely – first Ralph was in jail, then Ralph and Collette divorced, then Collette died, and Ralph joined her some time after that.

It’s too bad it ended like this but somehow I’m not really surprised. Ralph and Collette never really had their shit together. I wonder if they had ever tried that steak thing again after that night? Or thought sometimes about the huge brawl in Hull that made them so happy.

Rest In Peace, Pat Burns

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?