TORONTO - It was a hug to say hello.
And, perhaps, goodbye.
When Doug Gilmour and Pat Burns shared an embrace Wednesday, neither man could predict if they would ever have the opportunity to do so again.
No matter. On this particular early October day in Quebec’s picturesque Eastern Townships, it was time to live for the moment.
“It was so good to see him,” Gilmour told the Toronto Sun in a phone interview late Wednesday afternoon. “He was in good spirits.
“At the same time, obviously he has some serious issues.”
About three weeks after erroneous reports had circulated that he had passed away, Burns made a rare public appearance, arriving for ground breaking ceremonies for the soon-to-be-built Pat Burns Arena in Stanstead, Que. His only message to reporters consisted of four words: “I’m not dead yet.”
Upon arriving at the event, Burns, who has valiantly been fighting a losing battle with cancer, received a pleasant surprise when he was greeted by a handful of former players including Gilmour and former Montreal Canadien Guy Carbonneau.
“Obviously he did not know we were going to be there,” Gilmour said. “We were all so happy to see him. He had a lot of friends there and, at the end, we had pictures taken together.”
Through it all, witnessing the frail condition of his former coach put many things in perspective for the ex-Maple Leafs captain, who led Toronto to the NHL’s final four during the 1993 and 1994 playoffs while playing for Burns.
“It’s sad,” Gilmour said. “There really isn’t any other way to put it.”