A handful of players on the current Habs roster had the good fortune to play under the veteran-coach at some point over the course of his 14-year NHL career.
One of those players was Scott Gomez who most notably won a Stanley Cup in 2002-03 playing for Burns as a member of the New Jersey Devils.
“You can really credit us winning that Stanley Cup to him. It’s something you don’t see quite as well when you’re younger, but as you get older you start to really understand just how important to the team he really was. I owe a lot to him,” expressed Gomez. “The second I heard the news, the first thing I could think of was his family, his kids. The sport of hockey just lost a great man. He was one-of-a-kind.”
Brian Gionta, Gomez’s past and present teammate, made his debut into the NHL under Burns’ leadership. The current captain of the Montreal Canadiens quickly came to understand both sides of his new coach’s personality.
“He was hard on us for a reason. Everything was calculated. Nothing he ever did was just to make life difficult for us, but it was all done with a very specific goal in mind,” explained Gionta. “He chose his moments well, and always knew when a player needed a confidence boost or a little pat on the back.”
Before his stint with the Devils, Pat Burns spent three seasons as head-coach of the Boston Bruins, three seasons that saw him influence the lives of several players, including a young 22-year-old named Hal Gill.
“He’s a guy who taught me a lot, not just about hockey. He helped me to become a better man and really showed me how to take care of myself. He was a great role-model to take after,” shared Gill on the man who helped him begin his career in the NHL. “He was a tough man, always very direct and honest. He wasn’t afraid to say whatever was on his mind. That’s just the kind of guy he was.”
Today, Kirk Muller stands as living proof that no matter how many years went by, Burns never changed the philosophies by which he coached.
“He was hard-headed, but in a good way. You had to play the game the way he wanted you to. He brought out the very best in every player and taught us all to push our limits,” explained Muller who played for Burns in both Montreal and Toronto. “We lost a great man. I was lucky enough to know Pat during his time in Montreal and Toronto. He was always my favourite coach, not just because of what he brought to the game, but because of who he was as a person.”
Tonight’s game will be an emotional one for both organizations. When asked if he planned on dedicating his performance to the memory of Burns, Gomez had this to say.
“I don’t think Pat would want tonight’s game to be dedicated to him. Knowing him, he’d probably laugh at the idea,” said Gomez with a grin. “There’s going to be a lot of memories surfacing in the next few days, but I still think he’d give us a good slap for thinking about dedicating the match to him.”
“With Montreal playing Toronto, I’m sure he’ll be watching,” concluded Gill.
Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Justin Fragapane.
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