LOST LEGEND

 

Ask anyone what the name Pat Burns means to them, and you’re bound to get a different answer every time.  However, the one constant recurring theme was his humanity – his genuine concern for others and their well-being, over and above his own.  He was tough as nails behind the bench, but a real pussycat off the ice.  While his passing doesn’t come as a shock given he was battling cancer for the 3rd time, he will be greatly missed.

Burns coached four NHL teams, three of them Original Six franchises.  While he enjoyed success virtually everywhere he went, it was the New Jersey Devils where he made his crowning achievement – a Stanley Cup in 2003.  This accomplishment was not lost on his immediate family, who chose an urn shaped like the trophy itself to store his remains.  Nice touch.

By now the outpouring of love and sympathy for Burns and his family has been nothing short of astounding, no thanks to a couple of sick individuals who thought it would be funny to break into Burns’ wife’s car during the funeral and steal a bunch of memorabilia intended to support charity.  The proceeds were meant to support a rink bearing his name.  However, I digress; these individuals will get their due.

The biggest memory of Burns for me will be his time spent in Toronto, and the great playoff run of 1993, when the Leafs went all the way to the Conference Finals before falling in 7 games to the eventual Western Conference Champions, the Los Angeles Kings.  Some of you might say, wait a minute Adam, doesn’t Toronto play in the Eastern Conference?  Well, they do today, but back then they played in the old Norris Division with Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and Minnesota (North Stars) – and in 1993 they took Detroit and St. Louis in 2 hard fought 7 game series to meet up with Wayne Gretzky and the Kings.  While Montreal would eventually win the 75th Stanley Cup (which to this day remains the last Canadian Stanley Cup championship), I’ll always remember two things from that spring – the fight Wendel Clark and Marty McSorley got into, and the fight Pat Burns and Barry Melrose almost got into.  If there wasn’t glass separating the benches in the old Maple Leaf Gardens, Burns would have surely popped him one.  As it turned out, it wasn’t the biggest fight Burns would face in his life, but one people talked about for months on end.  Burns was such an influential coach, the Leafs that fall went on their longest winning streak to start a season in franchise history, one they didn’t come close to until this season.  Burns would take the Leafs to the conference final again in 1994, but this time they’d go out to a more determined Vancouver Canucks, who would take the New York Rangers to 7.  Burns was going to quit coaching after that, but it was Gretzky himself who convinced him to keep it going, which he did.

Two lessons can be learned from and will ultimately become Pat Burns’ legacy – never back down from any fight, and always stand your ground.

As I was writing this piece, word came down the pipe we lost another hockey great – Buffalo’s Jim Kelley, Hall Of Fame hockey writer and sportscaster, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.  He submitted a beautiful eulogy of his own about Burns, and just hours before he passed away submitted a nice synopsis of Brian Burke’s two year tenure in Toronto.  Never one to back down from a war of the words, he tells a great story about how Burns respected him for always standing his ground, no matter what anybody thought.  One might recall as a rookie reporter back in the 80s he ripped apart the Habs and everything they stood for during a playoff series between Montreal and Buffalo, to which Burns set the record straight, saying the Canadiens were his team, and it was his time, and the past was, well, the past and it belonged there.  If you’ve ever had a chance to listen to or watch Prime Time Sports on the Fan 590 in Toronto, or simulcast on Sportsnet in Canada, you’ll know Jim as the grey haired, soft spoken blue-collared tie guy – never at a loss for words, and never without an opinion.  He would always say he didn’t care if you didn’t agree with him, but always asked us to read with an open mind.  Towards the end, both men supported each other whenever and wherever possible.  Needless to say, both will be missed dearly.  It’s almost like Burns asked the powers that be if he could bring his friend Kelley with him.  Wherever they are now, our loss is their gain.

 

ALONG THE BOARDS

Well, it looks like the NHL’s Board of Governors picked the perfect time to have their next round of annual meetings in Florida.  As I’m completing this column, we are getting our first real snow fall of the year.  High on the agenda is sure to be ownership concerns in Calgary, Dallas, and of course, Phoenix.  We’ll hopefully hear a report from head disciplinarian Colin Campbell on how the new blindside head shot rule is working (or not working).  And, we should hear if the salary cap will increase again next season.  Since implementing “cost certainty” in 2005, the cap has yet to drop.  Speculation is it will increase again, albeit slightly.

If you live in Ottawa like I do and don’t follow hockey, this past week you would have sworn Queen Elizabeth was dropping the ceremonial puck or something, based on all the media that gathered around Scotiabank Place.  However, it was just former Senators player Dany Heatley.  While the fans seem to have gotten the booing out of their system, the San Jose Sharks got the last laugh, blanking the Sens 4-0.  Heatley figured in quietly with an assist on Justin Braun’s first NHL goal, but it was former Ottawa 67s star Logan Couture who made all the headlines with 2 goals on the night.  It’s amazing to me how Couture is still considered a rookie after having played just shy of half a season with the Sharks last season, but those are the rules.  Of course, the biggest question fans are asking now is what’s happened to the Ottawa Senators?  I’ll tell you what – two wins and five points in their last 10 games.

We’re barely three months into the NHL season, and already there’s talk about who should be in the running for the Hart and Norris trophies.  All eyes are on Montreal’s Carey Price, who on any given night is the reason the Habs win or lose, and lately they’ve won more than they’ve lost – they seem to have picked up where they left off last spring.  In Atlanta, Chicago’s loss of Dustin Byfuglien has been the Thrashers’ gain.  While the Blackhawks played him more as a forward than on defense, in Atlanta he has gone back to the blueline, and has done a fine job.  No doubt by now you’ve seen his Bobby Orr-ish end to end overtime play against Buffalo early on in the season.  No disrespect to Jonathan Toews, but I still feel Byfuglien deserved the Conn Smythe over him, simply because if it’s meant to truly reflect “most valuable player of the entire playoffs”, then Byfuglien was the guy time and time again.  Toews certainly put up the points and had that long streak where he beat Stan Mikita’s franchise playoff points streak, but it was “Big Buff” getting into the dirty areas and scoring the big goals – none bigger than an overtime goal against San Jose in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.  If the Sharks win that game to close the gap to 2-1, it changes the complexion of the entire series.  Who knows if Chicago wins 2 more to advance to the finals?

If you’re looking for a good hockey movie to go see with family or friends over the holiday season, and you live in or close to Quebec, go and see “Lance et Compte”, a movie based on the French language television series by the same name.  I’ll warn you right now, though, you’ll enjoy it a whole lot more if you at least have a basic understanding of the language – however, the hockey scenes aren’t hard to follow.  It definitely ranks as one of the better hockey movies I’ve seen.  I can only hope when they release it on DVD they put some English subtitles in with it.  The series itself aired from 1986 to 1989 on Radio Canada, with two reincarnations of the series in 2001, and from 2004 until now.  I might be slightly off in the translation, but the storyline seems to ask the rhetorical question “what if there was still a NHL team in Quebec City?”  Of course, for the holidays there’s the usual offering in the Don Cherry Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em series, which is up to its 22nd installment this year, with a special edition including the made for TV movie “Keep Your Head Up, Kid – The Don Cherry Story”, both directed by Grapes’ son Tim.

Speaking of the holidays – for the hockey crazed video gamer on your list, if they don’t already have it, there’s something for every system this year.  2K Sports has their usual NHL 2K11 offering, and EA Sports this year finally came through with a game for the Nintendo Wii – NHL Slapshot.  Endorsed by the Great One himself, this one comes complete with a hockey stick controller.  Might be a good idea if you get this for someone to make sure they have a second controller/nunchuck, because it’s a pain to take the controllers out and put them back.  What I like about this one is there is finally an online option for a Wii hockey game.  For the Playstation/Xbox gamer on your list, there is the usual NHL 11 from EA Sports.  What can I say, this game just gets better and better (and so does the online competition).

Should be another good World Junior tournament this Christmas - this year the IIHF hosts its annual under 20 tournament in Buffalo, NY, where Team USA will look to retain its title, and where Team Canada will be looking to avenge an overtime loss in the final last year.  It’ll be tough.  As few as three players will return from last year’s Canadian team.  The rest are playing in the NHL or AHL.  If you like good hockey and if you’re interested in watching the future stars of the game, this tournament never disappoints.  As always, TSN will have all the games in Canada, and they’ll be simulcast on the NHL Network south of the 49th parallel.

From myself to all of you, I wish you all the best for the upcoming season and into 2011.  Traditionally the time of year from September into January is when I’m busiest, but then things gear down, which is a good thing as the hockey starts to heat up.  While I’m still trying to figure out what happened to 2009, let alone 2010, I guess it’s true what they say – time flies when you’re having fun.  I guess it’s also true if the biggest problem you have in a day is discovering whether or not your favorite team wins or loses, then your life must be good.  No complaints from me either way, especially now for the time being it seems the team I follow the most seems to have turned things around.  If you’ve been reading me for a while you all know what team I’m talking about.  Cheers!

 

More Puckin' Around...