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Pat Burns, 1952-2010

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I don’t believe the Toronto Maple Leafs will ever employ another coach who will leave his mark on the team, the fans, and the city the way Pat Burns did. He was behind the bench for only 281 regular season games, and only 46 playoff games. Two magical seasons, a disappointing lock-out shortened campaign, followed by his dismissal as his sputtering team was hitting the stretch run. But two immaculate playoff journeys. Ones we’ll never forget. Ones synonymous with success, that reversed the fortunes of a struggling, once-proud franchise. Ones that defined Burns’ time in Toronto.

Burns was a blue collar guy. The type of personality Toronto falls in love with, three times over. When you think of Pat Burns, you think of Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark and Dave Andreychuk. You think of Bob Rouse, Sylvain Lefebvre, Jamie Macoun and Todd Gill. You think of heart. You think of “The Passion Returns.” And return it did, thanks to Pat Burns.

Three moments have stuck with me, all these years later:

1. Burns’ return to Montreal. Having come to Toronto via the hated Canadiens, it was no secret he wanted to stick it to his former team. He wanted that game, bad. Everyone knew it. And his players went out and won it for him. I even remember the score: 5-4 Toronto, with the Leafs holding on for the road victory. And there was Burns on the bench, swinging his arm around in celebration, in what might have been an early interpretation of the fist pump. Pat Burns: Ahead of his time.

2. Burns leaving the Toronto bench in the playoffs against Los Angeles, heading across to the visitors’ side to, well, likely end the life of Barry Melrose. Who totally had it coming. Passion.

3. After game seven against Los Angeles came to an end, and the teams had shaken hands, there was Burns at the Maple Leafs bench, applauding his players as they left the ice for the final time. Twenty-one grueling playoff games. Three game sevens. A coach proud in defeat. I’ll never forget the ass-tap Burns gave Gilmour as #93 stepped off the ice, ending a season the likes of which we’ll never see again.

I hate the New Jersey Devils, but I’m glad Pat Burns won the Stanley Cup. He deserved it. Yet I remember reading a few years ago that on Burns’ mantle wasn’t a picture of his Devils championship team. Instead, there was a photograph of the 1992/1993 Leafs. Because, as Burns put it, that team was “special.”

He’s left us, but I’ve no doubt Pat Burns thought as much of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and their fans, as we thought of him.

Until the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup in my lifetime — and I’m beginning to realize this may never, ever happen — every coach who takes residence behind the bench will be compared to Burns. Because when he was back there, it was the closest the Leafs have ever come.

Here’s to the memories. Thanks, Coach Burns. Enjoy the view of your Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony from upstairs.

To read other heartfelt tributes to an incredible coach and man, please visit Pension Plan Puppets.

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Written by Navin Vaswani

November 19th, 2010 at 11:08 pm