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New book examines Burns' life in hockey and beyond

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils

Devils fans remember the late Pat Burns as the three-time Jack Adams Award winner who helped deliver the Stanley Cup to New Jersey in 2003.

But there was more to Burns than hockey. In her new book "Coach: The Pat Burns Story," Rosie DiManno takes a closer look at who Burns was, examining the qualities that defined him publicly and privately. DiManno knew him well: as a columnist with the Toronto Star, she covered his tenure with the Maple Leafs that included consecutive trips to the conference finals.

"He's a riveting personality, a riveting character and there are quite a lot of them in sports," DiManno told "But he was also an enigma and maybe people are curious to find out a bit more about what made him tick."

DiManno draws upon her own experiences with Burns, as well as interviews with his family, former players and colleagues such as Devils President/CEO/GM Lou Lamoriello, to present a fresh portrait of the former Quebec cop who went on to one of the most successful coaching careers in NHL history.

DiManno spoke to about the book, which is available now.

Why write a book on Pat Burns?

He's a great story. We'd talked a lot about doing a book together. We spoke about it often over the years. He was always warm to the idea but kept saying he wanted to wait until after his coaching career was over. Then when he got sick, he never really wanted to concede that the coaching career was over, so he just kept putting it off, and then he just became too ill to even do the interviews. But I think he always knew that was I going to at some point write a book about him. I sort of felt that it was kind of a pact that we had and I wanted to do it for him. He's just a great story, I think.

The book's description asks the question, "Who was Pat Burns." How would you answer that?

He was a whole mess of contradictions. He was both what he seemed to be and also what he seemed not to be. The gruffness that most people saw – that was genuine. But there were also other qualities that people might be surprised to discover in him. He was extremely thin-skinned. He was wounded easily. He was quite a sensitive man and he had a lot of interests outside of hockey, but certainly hockey was his primary passion. He could certainly be a bully. He had some qualities that were certainly not very attractive, which is true for all of us, I guess. I don't think I've whitewashed anything about him, but I also tried to put in context where some of his personality failings or quirks came from. He had a difficult life growing up and I think that that scarred him deeply. He didn't trust anybody. I hope he trusted me a little bit, but he rarely put any trust in people. When things got hard for him, for example in hockey, when he had problems with his teams and the problems escalated, his personality tended to exacerbate them. I think it was not until he got to the Devils that he started to figure out what he'd done wrong. I think that (Lou) Lamoriello was crucial in helping to open Pat's eyes to what he needed to change about him in order that his teams could win.

Did you learn anything new about him through this project?

Well, I learned a lot of new details. I think the research confirmed some of the things that I suspected about him. Some of the things that he didn't necessarily talk about, but others would speak about. His sister provided a lot of insight into what his life was like growing up. I knew that his father had died when he was 3 years old in an accident and I knew that that was obviously going to have an impact on anybody that it might happen to. But his sister helped flesh out who that little boy had been and how he grew up into the man he became. On the other end of his life, Lou Lamoriello also illuminated a lot of Pat Burns for me. Although we kept in contact over the years, I didn't see much of him during his illness. I spoke with him on the phone, but I don't think Pat wanted to see a lot of people, especially when he was really sick. But he did see and keep in close contact with Lou. Lou certainly, I think, knew Pat well and appreciated both his strengths and his weaknesses and described those really well for me.

Do you have a favorite story from the book?

I was really always entertained and amused by the stories that Pat would tell about his policing years, and I learned a lot about that from his detective partner. I'm not sure all the stories were true but a lot of them turned out to be true because I heard them from other people. Pat had a whole other life before he got into hockey. Half his life was in another profession. He was a man who continued to create himself. He created, to some extent, the myth of Pat Burns.

How important was the Hall of Fame to Burns? Should he already be there?

Yes, I think he should be there. I think he should've been there when there was the big push as he was dying (in 2010). I hope he's in some year. I honestly don't know how important it was to him; I'm sure it would be important to anybody. I talked to Mats (Sundin) when he was named to be inducted this year, and I believe when people say how important this is. It's something to be really proud of. But Pat, on the occasions that I talked to him about it, didn't seem that concerned. But of course, at that point in his life he was really ill and he had other things on his mind. I'm sure he would've been thrilled, but he told other people, he told his cousin to whom he was very close, Robin, that it didn't matter. So maybe it didn't matter. I wish they'd done it though. I think he certainly deserved to be there.

What would a Devil fan like best about the book?

Obviously we visit his championship year and I think everybody likes to remember when they won. Some of the things that were happening behind the scenes, I don't know how aware fans were of it. Although he was actually only there a short time as a bench boss, he had such a dynamic personality. I think people might want to know more and might want to know about his past, what happened before he got there and what happened after he left because, until the very end, he always assumed that he would be back. He had to think that he would be back. When you're sick like that, you have to believe that you're going to recover.

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