Family, friends gather for Burns' funeral

Gary Bettman (R), commissioner of the NHL, and Brian Burke, general manager of the Toronto Maple...

Gary Bettman (R), commissioner of the NHL, and Brian Burke, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, attend the funeral of former NHL coach Pat Burns in Montreal November 29, 2010. (REUTERS/Christinne Muschi)

BRIAN DALY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:16 PM ET

MONTREAL – The complexities of former NHL coach Pat Burns were on full display at his funeral Monday as his family remembered his life alongside NHL legends, current players and executives at an ornate downtown church.

More than 1,200 people packed the church for a two-hour ceremony that was traditionally Catholic, save for the New Jersey Devils floral arrangement next to the altar and the replica Stanley Cup that held his ashes.

Loved ones, including the players he coached on four NHL teams, also recalled all sides of Burns’ larger-than-life personality. The Montreal native was alternately remembered as a man’s man and tough taskmaster but also a softie who loved to laugh, drink and ride motorcycles with friends.

Boston Bruins Hall of Famer Raymond Bourque told reporters that Burns’ public image as a fighter was well-earned but didn’t tell the whole story.

“He could actually bark pretty loud but he could also have the other side that was very understanding and supportive," said the former defenceman, who played for Burns with the Bruins from 1997 to 2001.

Superstar goalie Martin Brodeur, who won a Cup for New Jersey in 2003 with Burns behind the bench, said his former coach earned players’ respect by mixing toughness with sympathy.

“He was able to turn that switch to be a tough guy when he wanted, a nice guy when he wanted and I think that's really something that brought the best out of all the players that played for him," Brodeur said.

Burns, the fiery former cop who led three of the Original Six teams before winning the championship with the Devils, died Nov. 19 after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 58.

A coaching icon, Burns' career spanned 14 seasons and 1,019 games for the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Devils. He earned three coach of the year awards, an NHL record he still holds.

Mourners at Mary Queen of the World church included a who's who of the hockey world, including former Burns' stalwarts Patrick Roy and Tie Domi, as well as current stars such as Canadiens forward Brian Gionta, who played for the 2003 Stanley Cup winners in New Jersey.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Quebec Premier Jean Charest also came to pay their respects, along with nine-time Stanley-Cup-winning coach Scotty Bowman. The entire Canadiens and Devils organizations were there, and Devils GM Lou Lamoriello gave a touching eulogy in which he called Burns an inspiration and a friend.

But the showstopper was Burns’ cousin and agent Robin Burns, who had mourners laughing and crying during a 15-minute eulogy that revealed Pat’s tender early years in Montreal’s working-class St. Henri district.

Robin Burns recalled how loud thunderstorms would send young Pat scrambling into his bedroom. His cousin also recalled how even after Pat became a police officer in Gatineau, Que., his greatest fear was another childhood nightmare – facing his furious mother at the top of the stairs after missing curfew.

He, like many speakers on Monday, recalled the strength Burns showed even as cancer spread throughout his body.

"Pat, you've been to the bottom of the mountain and you've been to the top of the mountain with Lord Stanley," he said. “Open up a few Molson's, talk hockey and enjoy the view from your heavenly home. We will all miss you Pat, rest in peace.”


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