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Burns to be honored in pre-game ceremony

Monday, 11.22.2010 / 2:33 PM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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Burns to be honored in pre-game ceremony
Devils to honor Burns before Monday's game vs. Caps.
Just hours before the Devils were to honor Pat Burns in a pre-game ceremony, two members of the 2003 Stanley Cup championship shared their memories of the legendary head coach.

Burns, the three-time Jack Adams Award winner, passed away Friday at the age of 58 after a long battle with cancer. The Devils host Washington Monday night.

“Obviously, he did a lot for a lot of us in here,” Colin White said. “He got us to that point that we all dream of as kids, guiding us in the right direction to have success. He was very young, a young man, and a great leader for a lot of us. Any day that sort of stuff happens is a sad day. He’s touched a lot of people in his life.”

White is one of four current Devils that were on that 2003 club. Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias, and Jamie Langenbrunner were also key contributors in the series victory over Anaheim that secured New Jersey’s third title in nine seasons.

“Anything you hear is true,” Elias said when asked to describe Burns’ style. “Tough, at first, to read and to get a feel for, but it worked for us.”

It also worked for Burns in Montreal, Toronto and Boston, where the 501-game winner enjoyed success with three of the NHL’s premier franchises. In each city, his impact was immediate. Here’s what Burns achieved in first seasons with a new team: trip to the Finals (Montreal), a trip to the conference finals (Toronto), a 30-point improvement from the previous year (Boston), and a Stanley Cup title (New Jersey).

It’s no wonder he’s the only coach ever to earn top honors three times.

“He demanded a lot, at the same time, he knew how to communicate with all of us and keep that fine line between player and coach,” said White. “He kept you on edge. The last couple of years, we knew him more as a person than as a coach. He was a great family man and a good friend to a lot of us.”

Current head coach John MacLean cut his teeth as an assistant under Burns in 2002-03. Current assistant Larry Robinson was a Canadien for Burns' first year in Montreal. Brian Rolston and Washington forward Mike Knuble were members of Burns' Bruins in 1999-00 and 2000-01.

“Burnsy gave me my opportunity to coach and it was a great experience working with him, seeing how he handles things,” MacLean said. “He cared a lot about the people he works with and the players. It’s sad that he passed and I have pretty fond memories of him.”

Burns was straightforward about his objectives. By the time he arrived in New Jersey in 2002, he had little left to accomplish except reach hockey’s summit. His passion for the game – and for winning –  made players eager to follow him.

“He was a very emotional coach,” White recalled. “You knew that from day one and he made that very clear to us as players. He was funny in the way that he came across in saying it, but we all knew and took it very seriously. He was here for one job, one purpose, and that was stressed from day one when he got here, right from his mouth. We accepted that, and he accepted us. It worked out and we did succeed.”

Still missing from Burns’ résumé is a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Though many were hopeful Burns would live to see his name enshrined, his former players believe he will soon enter into Toronto’s hallowed halls.

“I hope he does – I do,” White said. “He’s touched a lot of people in the hockey world, and away from it, too. He was a special person.”