The correction of an oversight has been long overdue.
But the late Pat Burns, who coached 1,019 regular season games in a 15-year career, has finally earned the game’s greatest individual honour – induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The NHL’s only three-time Jack Adams Award winner was represented by his widow Line at Friday’s ring presentation in Toronto during which the class of 2014 was recognized, three days prior to the official induction ceremony.
“He was my little teddy bear,” Line Burns affectionately said of her husband, who lost his battle with cancer in November 2010. “I knew two different Pats. One was at work so focused, so disciplined. At home, he was a pure joy, he was so funny. Pat had an extraordinary sense of humour, and I miss that.”
Indeed the professional Burns was a regimented disciplinarian with four different NHL teams: Montreal, Toronto, Boston and New Jersey, instilling a strong work ethic from behind the bench. But the gruff authority figure transformed his Mr. Hyde persona back into Dr. Jekyll away from the rink. Line Burns had the good fortune to spend her life with a loving husband and father, treasuring every moment during the final weeks of Pat’s time on earth.
“We talked about life, kids, mistakes, happiness – we had that gift, we had time together before he left,” she said. “We talked about so many things. I have great memories for the rest of my life. It was such a privilege to spend time with him.”
The movement to have Burns enshrined among the game’s greatest players and builders gained traction shortly after he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009. Having been named the coach of the year with three different teams, plus finally winning a Stanley Cup with his fourth – the Devils in 2003 – surely made his credentials impeccable.
But the hall’s Selection Committee collectively felt otherwise. And the omission didn’t seem to faze Burns, who shook off the snub with indifference. “He was at peace,” Line said. “He told his son (Jason) that one day he was hoping to get there. He was more disappointed for us, and we were disappointed for him because we knew that he didn’t have that much time left. He said to Jason ‘I hope I’ll get in one day, and if I get in, I hope you will be there to represent me.’”
The induction ceremony of 2010 was held eleven days before Burns passed away. Three additional annual enshrinements have since taken place without a plaque bearing the name of the man who has 501 NHL regular season wins and 78 playoff victories to his credit.
In a strange twist, Burns’ induction comes two years after a Hall of Fame blazer was fitted for one of the greatest players he coached, Leafs legend Mats Sundin. “Pat Burns was the best coach I had during my career in the NHL,” Sundin said. “He meant everything for me. He really taught me everything.”
Jason Burns can finally see his father’s name take its rightful place among hockey’s most revered legends, though it’s unfortunate that the selection didn’t take place when his dad was alive to accept it.
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