I’m fortunate to cheer for a hockey team which has won six Stanley Cups during my lifetime. That’s right, Leafs fans under the age of 43: six. Suck it. Anyway, I’m too young to remember much about the first four of those Canadiens cup wins (in consecutive years from 76 to 79) except that it was during those years that I decided Montreal was my favourite team, much to my father’s chagrin. I only vaguely recall the arrival of St. Patrick (Roy) to win the cup in 1986, as I didn’t really start paying attention to hockey until I was fourteen. It was 1989, and Montreal had made the cup finals again in Pat Burns‘ first year behind the bench.
The Canadiens lost to Calgary that year, but it set a precedent for Burns: he had a habit of making a big impact in his first year with each team he coached. He won the Jack Adams trophy that year as best coach in the NHL. Making the traitorous move to Toronto in 1992, he led an underdog team of Maple Leafs to game 7 of the conference finals, before Wayne Gretzky eventually shot Doug Gilmour in the neck, peed on his corpse and threw the puck into the Toronto net with his bare hands. Or at least that’s how Leafs fans describe it. Nonetheless, Burns won the Jack Adams again for his role in turning Toronto into a contender. He would eventually be fired, but won a third Jack Adams trophy in his first year coaching the Boston Bruins. In 2003 he led the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup, his first and only cup win. A few years later he would step down because of the cancer that would eventually spell the end of him. Pat Burns died last Friday.
It was a fitting coincidence, then, that Montreal and Toronto were to face each other the following evening. Montreal — as is their custom — held a touching and tasteful ceremony of remembrance before the game. It is well the game was not set for Toronto; I shudder to think how that tribute might have gone. The Canadiens then went out and stomped all over the Leafs, winning 2-0 for Carey Price’s third shutout in six games. Price looked, as he has all season, calm and focused and confident. After the game Price revealed to reporters that his inspired play of late may have had something to do with the very man the fans celebrated last night.
“He was a special person and he did a lot of great things in this league for both teams,” Price said of the 58-year-old who had success as coach in Montreal, Toronto, Boston and New Jersey before his illness drove him to step down in 2004.
“He left me a message before the season started and I was really touched. He gave it to (assistant coach) Kirk Muller and he passed it on to me.”
Asked what Burns said, Price just said: “That will always be here with me.”