Born April 4, 1952 in Saint-Henri, a suburb of Montreal, like most other boys his age, Patrick Burns had dreams of one day playing on a Stanley Cup championship team. Growing up within sight of the Forum and having an older cousin who played in the NHL (Robin Burns), further fuelled Pat's ambitions.
Although realizing he didn't have the skill set to achieve his dream, Pat's enthusiasm for the game never waned. When a friend asked him to assist with coaching a bantam team in Gatineau, Quebec, Pat jumped at the chance, and subsequently worked his way up through the ranks.
While working for the Gatineau police force, Burns was hired as a scout for the QMJHL's Hull Olympiques under general manager/coach Marcel Pronovost. Eventually, Burns worked his way up to head coach and general manager of the junior squad and in 1984-85 was forced to take a sabbatical from the police force
After a second year-long sabbatical, the police force insisted that Pat choose either hockey or policing. Convinced by new Olympiques owner, Wayne Gretzky, that he would one day be coaching in the NHL Burns chose hockey, leaving behind a sixteen-year career.
Prior to the 1987-88 season, Serge Savard, GM of the Montreal Canadiens, approached Pat about coaching Montreal's AHL franchise in Sherbrooke. After consulting with Gretzky, Burns accepted the offer. He spent the season in Sherbrooke and by the start of the next season, Jean Perron was fired in Montreal and Pat Burns hired as his replacement. "Six years before, I had bought scalper's tickets to watch the Canadiens play at the Forum," he recalled. "I sat in the blues and watched Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson, Bobby Smith and Mats Naslund. Six years later, I'm behind their bench!"
Dedicated to strong defensive play, the Canadiens finished the 1988-89 campaign with the fewest goals-against (218) and finished first in the Adams Division with 115 points. Pat took Montreal to the Stanley Cup final, only to fall to the Calgary Flames in six games. At the conclusion of the season, the rookie coach was named recipient of the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's coach of the year.
Burns and the Canadiens finished third in the Adams Division in 1989-90, second in 1990-91 and first in 1991-92, but in each spring, were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs at the hands of the Boston Bruins.
After resigning from the Canadiens, Burns considered an offer to coach the Los Angeles Kings, but was hired instead by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1992-93. "I find myself fortunate to coach two of the greatest franchises in NHL history," he said at the time. Burns guided that franchise to some of its most glorious moments since last winning the Stanley Cup in 1967. The Leafs finished the 1992-93 season with 99 points, good for third place in the Norris Division, then went on a storybook run that took them deep into the playoffs, finally losing to Los Angeles in the third round. Burns, again, was awarded the Jack Adams Trophy for his skilled coaching. The next season, Toronto finished second in the Central Division, enjoying a 98-point campaign, and again went to the third round of the playoffs before their season ended.
The strike-shortened 1994-95 season saw the Maple Leafs finish fourth, and they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Pat was relieved of his duties by the Leafs late in the 1995-96 season.
Hired by the Boston Bruins for the 1997-98 season, Burns led the team to a second-place finish in the Northeast Division. While the Bruins lost in the first round of the post-season, Pat was again selected as the NHL's coach of the year. His unprecedented third Jack Adams Award, all won in his first season with the team, sets Pat Burns apart from all other NHL coaches.
Burns and his Bruins finished third in their division in 1998-99, and Pat guided the team to the second round of the playoffs before they lost out. The next season, Boston slumped and missed the playoffs altogether. Eight games into the 2000-01 season, Pat was fired by the Bruins.
The New Jersey Devils hired Pat to coach the team in 2002-03, and he led the team to a 108-point first-place finish in the Atlantic Division, and with a hard-working team, finished that season as the Stanley Cup champions. In 2003-04, the Devils collected 100 points, good for second place in the Atlantic, but they were ousted in the first playoff round.
Health challenges concluded Pat's coaching career, but not before achieving outstanding success. His career record stands at 501 wins, 350 losses, 161 ties and 14 overtime losses in 1,019 regular season games over fourteen NHL seasons. A third battle with cancer finally ended Pat's life on November 19, 2010. The three-time Jack Adams Award winner will forever be regarded as one of the toughest competitors to stand behind an NHL bench.