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NHL players, officials gather for funeral of Cup-winning coach Burns
Question of the Day
The entire roster of the Devils was on hand for the afternoon service, honoring the police officer-turned-hockey coach who also had successful runs in Montreal, Toronto and Boston before coming to the Devils.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Quebec Premier Jean Charest were joined by Raymond Bourque, Patrick Roy, Tie Domi, Luc Robitaille and Toronto Maple Leafs executives Brian Burke and Cliff Fletcher at the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, a scaled-down replica of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
“His bark sometimes was a little louder than his bite, but he could actually bark pretty loud. But he could also have the other side, that was understanding and supportive,” said Bourque, the great Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche defenseman. “He was fun to play for. I really loved him and he was the best defensive coach I’ve ever had.”
“He always found a way to make players feel important on his team and I think that’s a great quality,” said the Hall of Fame goalie, now a minor league coach. “Sometimes in the morning skate he would come and say ‘… I need you tonight. I don’t feel the guys are ready for a strong start.’”
“He left happy memories everywhere he went,” the Quebec premier said. “He was a great example of courage and determination.”
Burns was the youngest of six children born into a working-class family near the old Montreal Forum. A burly man in his heyday, Burns had a love for Harley-Davidson motorcycles and an affinity for strumming country tunes on his guitar.
But it was his thundering voice from behind the bench that demanded the attention of referees and players. His gruff, no-nonsense approach intimidated his players, but many say it brought out the best in them.
In 1,019 games as an NHL coach, his teams won 501 games, lost 353, tied 151 and lost 14 in overtime. In 149 playoff games, they won 78 and lost 71.
He was the only one to win the Adams Trophy as the NHL’s top coach with three teams _ Toronto, Montreal and Boston. But it wasn’t until 2003 with the Devils that he finally got to sip from the Stanley Cup.
Burns battled colon and liver cancer in 2004 and 2005. He hoped he had beaten the disease, but in January 2009 doctors discovered it had spread to his lungs. He initially chose to forgo further treatment, but then decided to have chemotherapy to try to extend his life.
He made his last official public appearance in early October, the groundbreaking for an arena to be named in his honor in Stanstead, Quebec. The frail, yet wisecracking Burns couldn’t resist taking a shot at the media, some of whom had reported a few weeks earlier that he had died.
“I’m not dead yet,” he said in a hushed tone, his body thin body and cheeks sunken. “I’m still alive.”
At an earlier outing in March, Burns acknowledged he likely wouldn’t live another year. An online petition gathered thousands of names urging he be put in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello said Burns would be inducted in the “very near future,” but when the 2010 inductees were announced his name was not among them.
Bourque addressed the subject Monday.
He’s “a guy that probably should have been in the Hall of Fame this past year and will be in the Hall of Fame someday,” he said.
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