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Thursday, April 8, 2010
Let's get Pat Burns into the Hockey Hall


A movement caught fire while I was on vacation, and I want to make sure I don't ignore it.

Let's put Pat Burns into the Hockey Hall of Fame. That's the spirit behind a Facebook page, which already had more than 50,000 members supporting it.

The Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee decides next season's class in June. Burns' credentials certainly scream Hall of Fame: three Jack Adams Awards as NHL coach of the year with three different teams (Montreal, Toronto, Boston) and a Stanley Cup championship in his fourth and final NHL stop, New Jersey.

The timing of the movement is delicate, to say the least. By now, you've no doubt heard Burns is battling cancer. He was hospitalized earlier this week with complications from his lung and colon cancer.

"I know my life is nearing the end and I accept that," Burns said March 26 at an availability in Stanstead, Quebec, where a new arena was being named after him. "I probably won't be here when [the arena] is finished, but I'll be looking down on it."

If there's an apple in your throat, you're not alone.

My "Hockey Night in Canada" colleague Scott Morrison had an excellent sit-down interview with Burns in March 2009. Check it out here.

I caught up with Doug Gilmour on Wednesday. Burns has often cited "Killer" as one of the favorite players he coached. No surprise there. The Burns-Gilmour era in Toronto in the early-1990s remains a favorite for any Leafs fan under the age of 40. At the heart of those heart-stopping, back-to-back trips to the conference finals in 1993 and 1994 was the gutsy Gilmour on the ice and the fiery Burns behind the bench.

"He's a heart-and-soul guy and that's how he coached," Gilmour said. "He was very emotional behind the bench. He was a leader back there for us. But we knew going into a game that you better be ready as a player with him."

Gilmour remembers Burns taking him out for lunch upon Gilmour's arrival in Toronto.

"We had a couple of beers together," he said. "He explained what he wanted. He was very upfront. He was phenomenal. There were no games, and that's what you want as a coach. He tells it like it is."

Make no mistake about it, Gilmour cherished playing for Burns, but it wasn't a walk in the park for players. He demanded a lot from them.

"He was a players' coach, but he was also very intimidating," said Gilmour. "But he didn't have to say anything to me. He just looked at me the day after a game and I would look back and say, 'I know, I'll be better.' He just had that police-officer mentality."

Burns was in his last year of coaching in Toronto when I began my career in 1995. His postgame news conferences at the old Maple Leaf Gardens were things of beauty. You certainly weren't bored.

"He always deflected any issue away from us," said Gilmour. "When he talked to you guys [the media], he always put it on himself. He never pinpointed anybody, he never blamed anybody. He really took care of his players. You guys saw how he was with his hard-ass side, but away from that, he wasn't like that. He's just a great guy."

And a coach deserving of a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Let's get him in!