MONTREAL — On the night he was honoured by an entire country, there were more cheers than tears for Pat Burns.
Which is probably the way he would have wanted it anyway.
Forget the old adage about there being no crying in baseball. In the world of Pat Burns, in life and in death, there is no weeping in hockey either.
Asked Saturday if he was dedicating his upcoming performance between his Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs to Burns, Scott Gomez said that is not a gesture that would have sat well with the NHL’s three-time coach of the year.
“He’d probably laugh in your face (at that suggestion),” said Gomez, who won a Stanley Cup under Burns with the New Jersey Devils in 2002-03.
“He was pretty tough.”
With Burns, 58, having passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer Friday, the Canadiens, in their usual fashion, pieced together a very classy pre-game ceremony.
With chants of “Burnsie ... Burnsie” echoing through the Bell Centre, a video tribute to Burns’ life was shown on the overhead scoreboard accompanied by the Beatles’ song In My Life.
Once that had concluded, the arena lights went dim as Burns’ image was projected onto the ice, igniting yet another ovation from the capacity crowd. All the while, players on both benches tapped their sticks against the boards in appreciation.
Perhaps it was just coincidence that the Leafs and Habs, two teams he had left such a deep imprint on, would be playing on this particular Saturday. Either way, it was fitting.
“He had so much success with those two teams early in his career,” Habs captain Brian Gionta said.
Success that will never be forgotten.
In fact, much of the day was spent with players and coaches fondly reminiscing about Burns. It was more a celebration of his life than a time of mourning.
Here are some examples.
When Habs assistant coach Kirk Muller was playing with Toronto, his buddy from Kingston, actor Dan Aykroyd, planned a party for Muller for his 30th birthday.
“So, we went out to L.A. and lost something like 2-1,” Muller said. “We got on the bus and went back to the hotel. So there I am, thinking I’m going to see Dan and take the whole team for my birthday dinner. Burnsie gets wind of it. Someone had called him to invite him. So as we’re getting off the bus, Burnsie says, “Guys, I’m sorry, no one leaves the rooms tonight.”
Habs defenceman Hal Gill said Burns helped widen his vocabulary while the two were with the Boston Bruins.
“Some of his rants the next day and after practice were legendary,” Gill said. “Ask anyone who played for him. They’re not fit for anyone’s ears outside the locker room.
“He’d always grab something to throw too.”
In the end, Burns was Gill’s French teacher as well as coach. Sort of, anyway.
“Luckily I came to Montreal and have learned some of the (French words he used) after the fact. I just can’t use them with you guys.”
Burnsie to the rescue
It didn’t take his players long to find out that there was a soft spot behind Burns’ gruff exterior.
A small one anyway.
In his second season with Montreal, Burns was snapped out of a deep sleep by a call informing him that three of his players — Mike Keane, Shayne Corson and Brian Skrudland — were behind bars. It seems this not-so-terrific trio had been involved in a brawl at a Winnipeg watering hole, a development that angered the former cop.
After bailing out his players and giving them a tongue-lashing, Burns found out the three had come to the aid of a man who had been badly roughed up. Burns quickly changed his tune and gave his players advice.
While the three were charged with causing a disturbance by fighting, they were not convicted.
“That was Pat,” Muller said. “When you needed something, the first guy who would call you was Pat.”
When Gionta received the coveted “C” for the Habs earlier this year, he received an unexpected call.
It was from Burns.
Weak as he was from the disease that was eating away at him, the ex-coach still took the time to wish Gionta well.
“He told me he was proud of me,” said Gionta, also a member of the 2003 Cup-winning Devils. “That meant so much.”
During the World Junior championship of 1987, Burns was an assistant under head coach Bert Templeton. That just happened to be the year of the famous Piestany brawl with the Russians.
Jacques Martin, now the coach of the Canadiens, was the bench boss of Canada’s under-18 team at that time. During his morning press conference Saturday, Martin was asked about the fracas in Russia.
“It was a reflection of our coaching staff at the time,” Martin laughed.
On this day, such laughter would have been exactly what Pat Burns would have wanted.
After all, there is no crying in hockey! Not for Pat Burns anyway.
Rest in peace, Pat.