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Former NHL coach Pat Burns dies

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Former NHL coach Pat Burns dies
Last Updated: Friday, November 19, 2010 | 7:59 PM ET
By John F. Molinaro, Brandon Hicks and Tony Care, CBC Sports

Pat Burns, one of the most successful NHL coaches of the past 20 years, died Friday after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Burns, 58, died while surrounded by his family at La Maison Aube-Lumière in Sherbrooke, Que.

During his 15-year NHL coaching career, Burns posted a 501-353-151-14 record in 1,019 games behind the bench of the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils.

Burns won the Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2003, and is the only person in league history to win three Jack Adams Trophies, awarded to the NHL's coach of the year.

Pat Burns in his own words

"To listen to the national anthem being sung at the Montreal Forum and look up and see all those Stanley Cup banners up there and saying, 'What am I doing here?'" — on his first game as coach of the Montreal Canadiens.

"It was a great time … just some great people.… Got to the final, Calgary decided they weren't going to lose another one like they did in '86 [to Montreal]." — on Montreal losing the 1989 Stanley Cup final to the Flames.

"I remember being on the ice after the game, and I remember Ron MacLean coming up to me with the microphone, and I didn't know what to say. I was baffled for words." — on winning the 2003 Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils.

"I tell my friends and family if you feel something, go to the doctor, get diagnosed, get something checked out." — on the importance of personal health.

"I don't want anybody feeling sorry for me. I've had a great life, I've had an enjoyable life, I've had some fun. I've been lucky to be part of one of the greatest sports around [and] the National Hockey League." — on retiring from coaching after being diagnosed with cancer.

"Just as they will remember Pat for his success as a coach, hockey fans also will remember his humour, his honesty, his humanity and his courage. As it mourns the loss of an outstanding contributor to the game, the National Hockey League sends heartfelt condolences to Pat's family and friends," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.

A former police officer from Gatineau, Que., known for his passion, Burns took over as coach of the Habs in 1988 after serving as the bench boss of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Hull Olympiques and the Sherbrooke Canadiens of the American Hockey League.

Within a year of his arrival, Montreal was playing in the Stanley Cup final, and even though the Habs lost to the Calgary Flames in six games, Burns's star was on the rise as he won the Jack Adams Trophy at the end of the season.

His next port of call was Toronto, where he made an immediate impact, guiding the Maple Leafs to the 1993 conference finals and winning another Jack Adams Trophy in his first campaign with the club.

Burns and the Leafs made the conference finals the next year, but he was fired during the 1995-96 season.

Burns wasn't out of work for long, as he landed the head-coaching job with the Bruins, and won an unprecedented third Jack Adams award in 1998. Success in Boston was fleeting — the Bruins bowed out of the playoffs in each of his first two seasons with the club, and they didn't even manage to qualify for the playoffs in 2000.

A poor start to the 2000-01 campaign resulted in his being fired after only eight games, but Burns had the last laugh as coach of New Jersey, guiding the Devils past the Bruins in the first round of the 2003 playoffs en route to winning the Stanley Cup.

Throughout his stellar career, Burns only missed the playoffs once — 1999-2000 with the Bruins — while behind the bench of one of his teams.

Burns was on top of the hockey world, but his career took a life-altering direction following the 2003-04 season when he was forced to step down as coach of the Devils after being diagnosed with colon cancer.

He survived colon cancer but was diagnosed with liver cancer the following year. Once again, he beat it and everything appeared to be back to normal in his life.

But in 2009, Burns revealed he had been diagnosed with cancer a third time, this time lung cancer.

During his final years, Burns lived in Florida, where he attended NHL games in Tampa Bay as a consultant for the Devils. He credited his wife Line for helping him win his cancer battles, and always stressed that he didn't want hockey fans to pity him.

"I don't want anybody feeling sorry for me. I've had a great life, I've had an enjoyable life, I've had some fun," Burns told Scott Morrison of Hockey Night in Canada in 2009.

"I've been lucky to be part of one of the greatest sports around [and] the National Hockey League."

There were erroneous reports on Sept. 17 that Burns had died. Twitter went ablaze with the news and some media websites reported the story, but Burns confirmed to Morrison he was very much alive and merely visiting family in Quebec.

"Tell them I'm alive. Set them straight," he said at the time.

Burns's last public appearance was in early October in Stanstead, Que., for a groundbreaking ceremony for an arena to be named in his honour.

Led by Morrison and hockey commentator Don Cherry, there was hope Burns would get enough support to be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame without the mandatory three-year waiting period, but he didn't get in.

Burns is survived by his wife, his daughter, Maureen and son Jason.