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Pat Burns finally gets his due with induction into Hockey Hall of Fame

11/17/2014 11:44 EST | Updated 01/17/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - A few months ago, Line Burns was driving to see a friend and just happened to stop in Gilmanton, N.H., where she used to live with her husband Pat. She was gassing up her car and getting something to eat when her phone rang. On the other end were Pat Quinn and John Davidson from the Hockey Hall of Fame telling her that Pat Burns would finally be enshrined four years after his death.

"It was meant to be," Line Burns said. "He was probably laughing up there."

With her husband's Hall of Fame ring in her grasp, Line talked Friday about how they used to laugh so much at home. She couldn't help but laugh that night when a video montage of Burns's best and angriest coaching moments were shown on the video screens at Air Canada Centre.

Those included him winning the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils, yelling at referees and going after Barry Melrose.

"I'm sure it wasn't fun at that time," Line said, "but it was hilarious."

The emotional range of the Burns family and hockey community is vast as Burns posthumously went into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday along with Dominik Hasek, Peter Forsberg, Mike Modano, Rob Blake and referee Bill McCreary.

Burns' son, Jason, had specific instructions from his father on how to deliver the speech. Pat Burns told his son to thank Charlie Henry, Wayne Gretzky and the organizations he coached for and their fans.

Pat Burns didn't dwell on not making it even as he was dying of cancer.

"I remember him saying, 'Cheer Up Jason, I'll get in there someday probably. You better have a good speech ready because you're the one going up there for me," Jason Burns said Monday night. "Here I am with big shoes to fill."

There's some quiet anger that the selection committee didn't get it done before Burns lost his battle with cancer on Nov. 19, 2010. Line Burns in honouring her husband on stage Monday night said that, "at his first Hall of Fame induction opportunity, a lot of people were outraged he didn't make it in. A lot of people but him."

At this point, amid some frustration that it took so long — Mats Sundin saying this didn't come a day too late — there's relief and joy that the three-time Jack Adams Award-winning coach is getting his due reward.

"In addition to being a great coach, he was widely respected throughout the hockey world for being a terrific person," commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier Monday. "It's nice to see somebody like Pat recognized and having his legacy preserved."

Davidson has been on the committee for many years but was serving as chairman for the first time. He said the process is different every year.

"You have different people that vote for different reasons," Davidson said. "I don't want to go and think about the past and what happened or didn't happen. He's in, he deserves to be in and his wife and his family are ecstatic and that's just the way it should be."

Cliff Fletcher, a former member of that committee, told ESPN.com that he was sickened by the "travesty" of Burns not getting in while he was alive. Fletcher said people held grudges that kept Burns out.

Perhaps what makes it so difficult to comprehend is that Burns has a resume that was going to earn him induction at some point.

After 17 years as a police officer in Gatineau, Que., he led the Hull Olympiques to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title and coached in the American Hockey League before making his way to the NHL. There, in 14 seasons he won the Jack Adams as coach of the year three times with three different teams: the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins.

"Pat Burns was the best coach I had during my career in the National Hockey League," said Sundin, a Hall of Fame centre. "He meant everything for me as I came to the Maple Leafs and also became the captain, too. He really taught me everything."

Burns made the Cup final with the Canadiens and got the Leafs to Game 7 of the Campbell Conference final in 1993, where they lost to the Los Angeles Kings. He had a career winning percentage of .573, but finally reached the pinnacle of the sport with New Jersey in 2003.

Line Burns believed her husband was proudest of winning the Cup because "it was a big dream of his." It meant so much to win it that they slept with the trophy that June 9 night.

"The whole night," she said. "How many times are you going to have the Stanley Cup in the house?"

Having a trophy in the house was a rarity, Line said. Her husband liked to keep them in a barn behind the house and preferred to fill their home with pictures of hockey — Bobby Orr leaping through the air — family, and players, such as Ray Bourque and Martin Brodeur.

When she brought a trophy into the house once, Pat told her not to bring it inside.

"I said, 'Well it's kind of nice. It's a nice piece,'" Line recalled. "The next day it was back in the barn."

Burns treated his Stanley Cup ring with care. It's now in the possession of his son Jason.

"He was alive when he gave it to him," Line said, "so he was happy to give it to him."

With the box holding his Hall of Fame ring in her hands, Line smiled and said, "This one's mine."

This was a weekend for her to soak up the admiration many in the hockey community have for Pat.

"I was just really glad I was part of his coaching career," goaltender Martin Brodeur said.

Line got a hearty ovation from the crowd at Friday night's Hall of Fame game between the Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins and responded with a smile and a thumbs up. With Hasek, Forsberg, Blake and McCreary flanking her, she dropped the puck for the ceremonial faceoff between captains Dion Phaneuf and Sidney Crosby.

Asked how her husband would have felt if he were alive for this, Line said: "He would've been so honoured. He would've been very humbled — probably speechless for the first time in his life."

Burns was never considered the silent type. Blake got a kick out of seeing highlights of him hollering at officials, and Hasek described the emotional coach as having "the kind of emotion you like."

"Pat was very emotional, but he always made his players accountable," McCreary said. "He never passed that on to the officials. He made them accountable for their actions. Pat and I had some go-'rounds, but he was very professional. He never held a grudge."

Modano almost played for Burns in Hull, but the Olympiques chose to take another player instead. Over his NHL career, the longtime Minnesota and Dallas centre said he talked to plenty of teammates who enjoyed playing for Burns.

"Pat was phenomenally respected around the league, one of those coaches that players I heard loved playing for," Modano said. "Mutually respected between coaches and teammates and that's all you could always ask for. He's up-front, honest, told you where you stood, what was your role. Those are usually the best guys."

Burns was respected by those outside the game, too. During Saturday's question-and-answer session, a Bruins fan told Line that he had a jersey with 182 signatures of players past and present — Burns is the only coach whose autograph is on it.

Line Burns described her husband as unpredictable and noticed just how different he was at work and at home. She called him her "little teddy bear."

"I knew the two different Pats," she said. "One was at work, so focused, so disciplined, he was so focused. I never saw a guy focused like that. At home, my God, he was a pure joy. He was so funny.

"Pat had an extraordinary sense of humour, and I miss that. I miss that because when he was home he was so much there, so intense, but intense in a good way because he could be intense in a bad way, especially on the hockey side."

Line said Pat never brought hockey home. But it wasn't the separation of work and life that made her happy but how her husband didn't let engrossing himself in hockey affect his personality.

"I think what I'm the most proud of him, I think it's the fact that he never changed," Line said. "The guy never changed, he stayed himself. I'm proud of that because he came from nothing and he appreciated everything."

In the video montage celebrating his legacy, Pat Burns was shown late in his life: "You don't cry because it's over, you're happy because it happened."

In her Hall of Fame speech, Line Burns paid tribute to her husband's career and his life away from hockey.

"Pat had two goals: winning and making a difference," she said. "This honour tonight is our way to show him how much he meant to us. Healthy Pat, he taught (players) how to win. ... Unhealthy Pat taught me, our family, our friends, how to live and how to survive."

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