Pat Burns, 58, one of the best defensive coached in NHL history, died Friday after a long battle with cancer. Burns won 501 games in 15 seasons as an NHL coach with the Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils, which he led to the 2002-03 Stanley Cup title in his first season with the club.
“Pat Burns was a close friend to us all, while dedicating his life to his family and to the game of hockey,” Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said in a statement.
“The hockey world has lost a great friend and ambassador. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Line, and the entire Burns family.”
Pat Burns was the only coach in NHL history to win the Jack Adams Trophy as the league’s coach of the year three times, winning it with the Canadiens in 1988-89, the Leafs in 1992-93 and the Bruins in 1997-98.
“For those who know me well, I’ve never backed down from any fight,” Burns said in 2004. “And I’m not going to back down from this one.”
He won that initial fight with the disease, but learned in 2005 that the cancer had returned, this time to his liver.
In January 2009, Burns announced he was facing a third fight with cancer. This time, it was incurable lung cancer and Burns decided to forgo treatment. His big break came in 1984 when Wayne Gretzky, then owner of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Hull Olympiques, hired Burns as coach.
After three seasons of major junior, Burns was hired to coach the Canadiens’ American Hockey League affiliate in Sherbrooke, Que. A season later, Burns was hired to replace Jean Perron behind the Canadiens’ bench. Burns’ robust and vocal style was a stark contrast to the less-confrontational Perron.
The Canadiens responded to Burns’ coaching, posting the league’s best record at 53-18-9 (115 points) in 1988-89. The Canadiens reached the Stanley Cup final, but lost in seven games to the Calgary Flames.
During a March 26 news conference attended by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to unveil the project, Burns, noticeably thinner and fatigued, spoke eloquently about his situation.
“I know my life is nearing the end and I accept that,” he told reporters at Stanstead College. “I probably won’t be here when [the arena] is finished, but I’ll be looking down on it.”