The hockey world on Friday learned that Pat Burns, the coach of the New Jersey Devils when they won their third Stanley Cup in 2003, passed away. Pat Burns had been battling cancer for quite some time including colon cancer in 2004 and liver cancer in 2005. In his final year coaching with the Devils, he admitted to receiving news that the cancer has come back, and this time, incurable.
Pat Burns was well known for his rough exterior. In fact I can honestly say I only saw him smile once when he was coaching the Devils: when he held the Stanley Cup over his head. He had coached for quite a few years prior to coaching the Devils, including coaching the Montreal Canadians, Toronto Maple Leads, and Boston Bruins. But he only won a Stanley Cup in New Jersey.
When asked who I felt was the best Devils coach – at least the best Devils coach during my tenure as fan (after 1995), Pat Burns is my answer. I’ve stated this years before when the Devils were involved with the coach of the year club and fans found GM Lou Lamoriello behind the bench on more than one occasion.
Pat Burns, on the other hand, kept the team together and made them look good. The Devils only lost a total of 20 games his first season as coach, won them an Atlantic title, and were only a few points shy of a Conference title. But the regular season didn’t matter. It was the post season in which the Devils shined. In the Finals against the Anaheim Might Ducks, the Ducks were shut out three times in the Devils four wins. And when he pulled Ken Daneyko from the lineup and fans were up in arms, he didn’t waver. In the final game, he did the most honorable thing I can ever recall a coach doing and put Ken back in the lineup knowing this would be his last. And sure enough, Ken was able to rejoin his teammates and held the cup over his head one last time before retirement.
Perhaps a reason I pick him as the Devils best coach was because his tenure was so short. In his second season as the Devils head coach, they were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round in 2004. After the final game, the announcement was made that Burns had cancer for a third time. He would have stepped down as coach should the Devils had continued. But we never had a chance to see how he would have fared as the Devils coach for successive seasons after that. Had that occurred, who knows what his record would have been like. But what I do know is he brought the 2002-03 Devils, a team I think most people would not have expected to win as much, to the finals and won the ultimate trophy. He was an honorable man and a respected coach. The hockey world lost one of it’s finest members – and he will be missed.
Thank you, Pat Burns, for our third Stanley Cup.