MONTREAL – Pat Burns was laid to rest with a Stanley Cup.
A funeral for the old coach was held Monday, with hockey royalty coming out to pay tribute to a man they remembered as a master motivator who was tough but kind.
Burns’ ashes were carried into the church for the funeral and, afterward, back out in an urn that is actually a miniature replica of hockey’s Holy Grail.
After the mass, his loved ones paused by the hearse to kiss the small Cup, which had sat near the altar with a flame flickering over it during the ceremony.
The coach’s cousin, Robin Burns, drew chuckles from the congregation during his eulogy by making refence to the unusual urn.
He listed some of Burns’ achievements—inside and outside of hockey—and at one point he addressed his late cousin directly.
“Look at you, all cropped up in Lord Stanley,” Robin Burns said.
“Not bad for a tete-carree (square head) from St-Henri.”
A number of current and former NHLers, along with league commissioner Gary Bettman, were among more than 1,000 guests who attended the service.
The dozens of prominent hockey figures present included the entire roster of the New Jersey Devils, as well as Raymond Bourque, Patrick Roy, Tie Domi, Mike Gartner, Luc Robitaille, and Toronto Maple Leafs executives Brian Burke and Cliff Fletcher.
On their way into the church, many of the guests shared their memories of Burns, who died earlier this month at age 58 after a long battle with cancer.
There was a common theme to the descriptions—that of a man with a booming voice, an equally big heart, and a knack for winning.
“His bark sometimes was a little louder than his bite, but he could actually bark pretty loud,” said Bourque, the legendary Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche defenceman.
”But he could also have the other side, that was understanding and supportive. He was fun to play for. I really loved him and he was the best defensive coach I’ve ever had.”
Bourque also addressed what many in the hockey world consider a historic slight: “(He’s) a guy that probably should have been in the Hall of Fame this past year and will be in the Hall of Fame someday.”
The bilingual service was held at Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, a scaled-down replica of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The cardinal who presided over the mass, Jean-Claude Turcotte, acknowledged he is an avid Canadiens fan.
The pews were also filled by members of the police brotherhood and leather-clad members of Burns’ old Road Dawgs motorcycle club.
Burns’ wife, Line, and children, Jason and Maureen, received condolences before and after the ceremony.
Roy reminisced not only about the fiery intensity of his old Canadiens’ coach, but also his ability to motivate players.
“He always found a way to make players feel important on his team and I think that’s a great quality,” said the Hall of Fame goalie, who is now himself a coach in the minor leagues.
“Sometimes in the morning skate he would come and say, ‘Casseau (Roy’s nickname in French), I need you tonight. I don’t feel the guys are ready for a strong start.’ “
In his eulogy, Robin Burns had some gentle fun at his cousin’s expense.
He told the congregation how Pat Burns was so scared of thunderstorms as a little kid that he would jump into his sister’s bed.
He also recalled how his cousin, who later became a police officer in Gatineau, Que., was at one time afraid of cops.
Burns ended his promising career on the police force in the 1980s to focus on coaching minor-league hockey full-time.
He had successful runs in Montreal, Toronto and Boston before winning a Stanley Cup with New Jersey.
He was the youngest of six children born into a working-class family in the St-Henri district near the old Montreal Forum.
A burly man in his heyday, Burns had a love for Harley-Davidson motorcycles and an affinity for strumming country tunes on his guitar.
But it was his thundering voice from behind the bench that demanded the attention of NHL referees and players.
His gruff, no-nonsense approach intimidated his players, but many say it brought out the best in them.
In 1,019 games as an NHL head coach, his teams won 501 games, lost 353, tied 151 and lost 14 in overtime. In 149 playoff games, they won 78 and lost 71.
He was the only bench boss to win the Adams Trophy as the NHL’s top coach with three different teams—Toronto, Montreal and Boston.
But it wasn’t until 2003, as head coach of the Devils, when the former Gatineau cop finally got to sip from the Stanley Cup.
New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello also gave a eulogy on Monday, calling Burns “one of the great names in hockey.”
“There was something genuine about him . . . what he said, you believed,” said Lamoriello, who phoned Burns a couple of weeks ago to ask him how he was feeling.
Lamoriello said Burns replied: “The hell with how I’m doing, I just watched you (the struggling Devils) play.”
Burns battled colon and liver cancer in 2004 and 2005, and hoped he had beaten the disease, but in January 2009 doctors discovered it had spread to his lungs.
The third time, he initially opted to forgo any further treatment, but then decided to go with chemotherapy to try to extend his life as long as possible.
He made his last official public appearance in early October, when he attended the groundbreaking ceremony for an arena to be named in his honour in Stanstead, Que.
The frail, yet wise-cracking Burns couldn’t resist taking a shot at the media, some of whom had reported a few weeks earlier that he had died.
“I’m not dead yet,” he told journalists in a hushed tone, his thin body and sunken cheeks showing the physical toll the lengthy battle had taken.
“I’m still alive.”