Burns 'Not bad for a square-head'

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:19 PM ET

MONTREAL -- It was a remarkable scene, really.

Under the towering dome of the magnificent Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, with a candle reflecting softly in the miniature Stanley Cup that contained Pat Burns' ashes, the hockey world came together to say good-bye to the ex-cop-turned-Stanley-Cup-winning coach.

Burns grew up on the hard-scrabble streets of St-Henri, on Laporte St., a few blocks away from this breathtaking, if scaled down, version of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.

It might have been just a few blocks, but what a journey from that poor, working-class neighbourhood to this moment late Monday afternoon.

Burns' funeral was presided over by Montreal Archbishop Jean-Claude Turcotte and attended by the premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, the commissioner of the NHL, Gary Bettman, and dozens of the superstar players whose careers he helped shape.

"Not bad for a tete-caree (square-head) from St-Henri," cousin Robin Burns told the approximately 1,200 mourners, invoking the popular Quebecois slang for anglos.

"Look at you, all propped up in Lord Stanley," he added, gesturing towards the gleaming Cup which sat in a circle of flowers.

Burns, who died at 58 a week ago Friday after a six-year fight with cancer, had his life's trip reflected in the makeup of the crowd. There were political elite, colleagues from his days as cop on the streets of Gatineau, Que., bikers wearing their colours who shared his love of Harleys, fans from off the street and the personalities, both big and small, who competed with and against him in the NHL.

Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque, Kirk Muller, Luc Robitaille, Mike Gartner, Guy Carbonneau, Shayne Corson, Scott Stevens, Tie Domi, Brian Gionta and Hal Gill were among the players there.

All the New Jersey Devils paid their respects.

Fellow coaches Scotty Bowman and Claude Julien and Jacques Martin turned up.

Interesting, but they all saw Burns the same way because he was never anything but what he was.

A lot of the talk Monday was how he loved his motorcyles.

A few months ago, he wanted to go for one last ride.

When friends objected because of his fraility, friend Christopher Wood remembered Burns saying: "What's the worst that can happen? I crash and die?"

New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello remembered the day eight years ago when he made the trip to New Hampshire to talk to Burns about the vacant Devils coaching position, walking by Burns' Harley in the yard.

"There was something unique and different about him. Whether it was his street smarts or his insecurities about his setbacks, there was something genuine about him. He believed what he said...I've thought about that day. He was exactly who he was...and he practised what he preached."

Lamoriello remembered calling Burns up recently after another rough game for the Devils.

"I asked him how he was feeling and he said, 'To hell with how I'm feeling. I just watched you play.'"

His players remembered him as the good cop and the bad cop all rolled into one, but, ultimately, they played for him because he was fair and they believed he cared for them.

"He cared about us as people," said Corson, who lost his dad to cancer at a young age and had Burns emerge as an important figure in his life. "Every time we screwed up he barked at us. He gave us a kick in the ass when we deserved it. But wrong or right, he was there for us."

Corson remembered getting bailed out of jail by Burns after an altercation outside a bar in Winnipeg.

"That was one time we didn't get the answer we wanted when we called him," laughed Corson. "But when he found out the real story -- that we were trying to help a lady -- he calmed down."

Burns could be tough. Players told one story of sitting in the dressing room at the Forum and listening to a huge row between Burns and the late John Kordic in the coach's office. It concluded with a huge crash, which was an ashtry hitting the wall.

But when Kordic had one of his many incidents in his short, troubled life, it was Burns who was there at 3 a.m. to help him.

"He was just a good man," said Corson.

And who could ask for a better epitaph than that?


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