TORONTO - New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello thought back to hiring Pat Burns, the late coach who helped Devils win the Stanley Cup, and talking to him about hockey the day before he died.
Former NHL coach Pat Burns, who is battling cancer, listens to proceedings at a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Pat Burns Arena, Wednesday, October 6, 2010 in Stanstead, Que. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
All those memories of Burns came flooding back to Lamoriello on Monday during a call from Burns’s widow, Line, as the coach was finally elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“It’s just a tremendous, tremendous honour for him,” Lamoriello said in a phone interview. “Well deserved. Just tremendous. You can tell in my voice.”
Lamoriello’s voice reflected what he said a year ago, that the idea of Burns making it into the Hall of Fame gave him chills. All across the hockey community there was joy and relief that the three-time Jack Adams Award winner was finally in four years after his death at the age of 58.
Line Burns wondered if the wait would be even longer.
“Honestly when I got the call today I was very surprised, very overwhelmed — I never thought it would come this soon,” Burns said on the Hall of Fame’s annual conference call. “You learn to be patient about this because there’s so many great talents. I was just hoping it would come sooner than later.”
Burns retired in 2005 after being diagnosed with cancer. For several years there was a push to get the Montreal native into the Hall of Fame while he was battling cancer, but that didn’t happen as Burns died in November 2010.
Lamoriello didn’t want to speculate about what took so long for Burns to receive this honour.
“I would not even want to look into that because you have a committee of hockey people who work very diligently in what they do, and they take a lot of pride in it,” he said. “I think the most important thing right now is he is in the Hall of Fame, and I think we all have to feel good about that and really enjoy every moment of it.”
Part of the enjoyment is recalling what Burns accomplished in his coaching career after moving on from 17 years as a police officer in Quebec.
He won the QMJHL title in one of three seasons at the helm of the Hull Olympiques from 1984 to 1987, then, after a stint with the AHL’s Sherbrooke Canadiens, won the Jack Adams as a rookie NHL coach in Montreal. His second coach of the year award came with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1992-93, and his third with the Boston Bruins in 1997-98.
Burns is the only coach to win the award three times.
“It says a lot of what he had to bring to organizations and it’s timing is everything in life,” Lamoriello said. “Not every set of personnel is for every coach … But he found a way to get the personnel that he was given at that time to bring them to a level.”
When Lamoriello discussed joining the Devils with Burns, the conversations centred on the Cup, the one thing the coach hadn’t accomplished in his career.
“He took a lot of pride in something he had never done, and that’s win a Stanley Cup,” Lamoriello said. “That’s what he wanted more than anything was to win a Stanley Cup.”
That came in 2003, when Burns’s Devils beat Mike Babcock’s Anaheim Ducks in seven games. It was the second-to-last season for Burns, whose teams made the playoffs in 12 of 14 years he was behind the bench.
“I know that Pat would’ve been so happy, so grateful, so proud to accept this honour,” Line Burns said. “One word that comes to my mind is grateful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
From now until he’s inducted Nov. 17, Burns will be a subject of much story-telling about his decades in hockey. A fellow member of the 2014 class, referee Bill McCreary, got a jump-start on that Monday.
“Pat Burns brought so much emotion and character to the game,” McCreary said. “It was always a pleasure to be on the ice with him. Although lots of times he didn’t agree with your decision, he was always very professional in the way he handled that. I have many, many great memories of many great games with Pat.”
One more milestone remains in Burns’s career legacy, a few months from now at the induction ceremony. Lamoriello will be there, trying to soak it all in.
“I’m looking forward to it in every way,” Lamoriello said. “He’s going in with a great class of great players and people. That makes it very special. It can’t come too soon.”