|Pat Burns hoists the Cup in 2003. GETTY IMAGES |
Ken Daneyko went to Pat Burns with a cigar, a smile, a handshake and a mea culpa on June 10, 2003, less than 24 hours after Burns essentially reserved his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame by leading the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup championship.
"That's when Pat said, 'You know, Kenny, it's all part of it and I knew it was going to make a difference,'" said Daneyko, the former Devils defenseman. "It was about winning. It always was about winning."
Burns won 501 games in a Hall of Fame career, but it was his victory with the Devils on June 9, 2003 that brought him to the pinnacle of the sport. One of the last monumental coaching decisions of his life happened the day before he became a champion. Daneyko was at the center of it.
Daneyko hadn't played in the first six games of the Stanley Cup Final, but Burns was convinced that the presence of New Jersey's veteran defenseman, a fan favorite known as "Mr. Devil," could help push the team to a win against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in Game 7 at Continental Airlines Arena.
As he was so many times in his career, Burns was correct.
"He was calculated," Daneyko said. "He talked to Scott Stevens before he talked to me and said, 'What do you think if I put Dano in tomorrow night?' Scotty said, 'The fans will go nuts, it'll be emotional, and it might be a little lift.' You know how every little thing plays a part. Pat knew that."
Daneyko's disposition and his feelings toward Burns were 180 degrees different nearly two months earlier.
It was April 14, 2003, the day between Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between the Devils and Boston Bruins, when Burns told Daneyko he wasn't playing in Game 4 even though he had played in the first three games and the Devils were up 3-0.
Daneyko had never missed a Stanley Cup Playoff game in his career, 165 games. His streak was about to come to an end. He blamed Burns.
"We almost came to blows," Daneyko said. "I knew going into the playoffs that there was a possibility I would be in and out of the lineup. Of course you're competitive and you want to be in, but I understood that. I respected that, but I just didn't like how things were handled."
Daneyko wasn't done though.
How could I not think he pushed every right button? We won the Stanley Cup. - Ken Daneyko
New Jersey lost Game 4 against Boston, so he was back in for the series-clinching Game 5 win. He played in all five games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and in three of the seven games of the Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators, including Games 6 and 7.
Daneyko was particularly burnt when he was told he wouldn't be playing in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
"I'm going, 'How can I play 6 and 7 against the best team in the League, and everybody was saying it that on paper Ottawa was the best team in the League, and then now we're going to the Stanley Cup Final and not play?'" Daneyko said. "You can imagine what I was going through emotionally. I was [mad]. There's no question about it."
Burns had one more emotional roller coaster for Daneyko to ride.
"We have a team meal the day before Game 7 [of the Cup Final] and after the team meal he takes me outside and says, 'You're in tomorrow night, don't tell the media,'" Daneyko said. "That was it and he walked away. I'm standing outside and to be honest, I was excited but almost in tears and then going, 'What the [heck] is he thinking?'"
After six games wondering why he wasn't playing, Daneyko now wondered why Burns was putting him in. He hadn't played in 17 days. He didn't know if he was capable of helping the team in the championship game.
Daneyko said he called his best friend and his wife at the time. They had to talk some sense into him and convince him he was capable of playing his role. They couldn't convince him Burns was making the right decision.
"I was resigned to the fact that this might be the wrong decision," Daneyko said. "I just wanted to win now, and I hadn't played in two weeks. God forbid I'm the reason we lose 2-1 because I give it away or make a bad play. Those are the things that were running through my head. I'm thinking like a coach and going, 'This might not be the right decision. Is he nuts?'"
Burns wasn't nuts, or worried about Daneyko being the reason the Devils lose. He was considering the edge New Jersey would gain by having the fan favorite in the lineup. He felt playing Daneyko in Game 7 would give the Devils the emotional advantage they needed.
"He felt the fans would give us a big boost," Daneyko said. "He was right."
The fans cheered when Daneyko wasn't announced as a scratch. They went bonkers when he came on the ice for the start of the game.
"It gave me goose bumps," Daneyko said. "Pat felt like the fans could be the seventh man. Even if it was one small part of it, that was it, and Pat knew that it would be. The fans were a huge inspiration. I was very grateful after that."
The Devils won 3-0. Daneyko shared a cigar with Burns the next day, his respect for the coach at an all-time high.
"How could I complain?" Daneyko said. "How could I not think he pushed every right button? We won the Stanley Cup."Dan Rosen
NHL.com Senior Writer