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May you Rest in Peace
Ed.'s (HF29) note - the following tribute was written by HF10:
Early in the summer, PPP asked us if we wanted to contribute a memory to be sent to Pat through other bloggers. We were only too happy to oblige. We don't know if Pat ever saw this piece, but we hope he knew he had fans across the whole hockey world, including this little corner of the internet. We wish nothing but peace to him and his family.
Pat Burns: An Appreciation that Matured as I Did
I was 15 years old when Pat Burns became coach of the Montreal Canadiens. At 15, I devoured everything I could about hockey and the Habs, but the news that the new coach was a former cop from Gatineau didn't really resonate like it would in today's 24 hour-internet-blog-twitter-Sportscentre world. At 15 years old and living two hours north of Toronto in 1988-89, the coach of the Montreal Canadiens made very little difference in the grand scheme of things.
Until I saw the team play. And win. A lot. Burns, Patrick Roy, Chris Chelios, Mats Naslund and the rest had a phenomenal year that got them to the Cup final against a loaded Calgary team. The combination of Burns' coaching and an All-Star goalie and defender like Roy and Chelios? Fate. All it needed was some traditional Canadiens firewagon offense and this team was off to the races.
It never happened. The Habs were always good through Burns' tenure, but never great. Even worse? They weren't fun to watch. I thought they were boring and the antithesis of the great Habs teams of the 70's I first fell in love with, and of the legendary Rocket and Beliveau lead teams my Dad idolized. When Burns left the Habs for Toronto, there was a sense of relief that the Canadiens would get back to being the team I loved to watch, not just the team I loved.
It didn't exactly work out that way. The Canadiens loosened the offensive reigns, but didn't return to the glory years. However, Burns and Toronto were a perfect match, as the Leaf's traditional work ethic and grit married to Pat's hard as nails approach and defensive acumen (with a healthy dose of a dominating Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark, among others) made the Leafs one of the best teams in the league. By then, I had reached the age where the importance of coaching was much more obvious to me, and living in the Toronto media market meant images of a scowling Burns behind the bench or an intelligent Burns answering questions in a scrum were daily occurences. I have been a Montreal fan all my life, but my lasting image of former Canadiens coach Pat Burns is of him threatening to tear off a smug Barry Melrose's head at the Gardens in the '93 playoffs. Burns is a Leaf legend, and deserves to be so.
Even after he lead the hated Leafs to new heights, or drove me crazy by moving to an even more hated rival in Boston, I liked the man. I liked that when I moved to Montreal for law school the owners of the Old Dublin pub had his picture behind the bar. I liked that his teams worked hard. I liked that he was bright and engaging and funny in interviews. I liked our shared Celtic heritage and that he finally won a Cup (even though I didn't like the Devils). I like that Burns' likeability transcends the sometimes bitter rivalry Canadiens fans have with Leafs and Bruins fans. That we all agree on the greatness of Pat Burns the coach and person speaks for itself. I wish 15 year old me had realized how good a coach Pat Burns was. I know 36 year old me does.