Burns’ stint in Boston was brief but still one of the best

Burns

The hockey world tonight mourns the loss of three-time Jack Adams Trophy winner Pat Burns, who passed away after a long fight with cancer.

He was just 58.

Burns won his only Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2003, but won the Adams with Montreal (1989), Toronto (1993) and the Bruins (1998) — the only man to win the award for coach of the year for three different franchises.

Although his stint on Causeway Street ended abruptly in the fall of 2000, he left his mark on the Bruins by the way he helped mold the likes of Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov from their rookie year on and the way he took the Bruins from playoff non-starters the year before he took over to qualifiers in spring of ’98 and then to second-round participants in ’99 — the last playoff round the Bruins won until Claude Julien came to town and got Boston into the conference semifinals in ’09.

Bruins president Cam Neely released a statement a short time ago:

“On behalf of the Jacobs family and the entire Boston Bruins family, I would like to express our deep sorrow on the passing of Pat Burns. Pat was a great coach and more importantly a wonderful man.  The Bruins are honored to have him as a part of our history. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Burns family.”

Julien has had an unusual tie to Burns throughout the Bruins bench boss’s career, because Julien has followed Burns to numerous stops — starting with the Hull Olympiques of the QMJHL. Both men also coached the Devils, Canadiens, and Bruins.

I never had the pleasure of covering a Burns-coached team, or even seeing much of his clubs play. From the outside looking in though, it seemed like he was the type of gruff-but-fair coach that usually succeeds in the NHL. And his numbers prove it, with a record of 501-353 (plus 151 ties and 14 overtime losses). I know no one has ever had an ill word to say about him in my presence, including a couple veteran Bruins beat reporters that didn’t always see eye to eye with him.

I once asked Don Cherry, the previous Bruins Adams winner before Julien and Burns, if there was any similarity between the three men.

“First of all, you’ve got to be kind of a little heavy,” he joked before turning serious.

“You have to have a touch and you have to relate to the Boston people. And if you look at Pat Burns and Claude Julien, they have a middle class. They’re blue-collar guys, a couple blue collars. And that’s the way their teams are too. That’s the way the Boston fans like (their teams), blue-collar, like our Lunch Pail Gang.”

Burns was Canadian-born and enjoyed his greatest success elsewhere, but he epitomized “Bruins hockey” both while coaching here and abroad. He left an impressive mark on the Bruins organization and will be sorely missed.

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