Pat Burns won’t be far from Doug Gilmour’s thoughts, Saturday night.
In fact, as soon as Gilmour hung up on a conference call Thursday afternoon, he planned on continuing to try to catch up with Burns, his coach during the Leafs three-round playoff runs in 1993 and 1994.
A banner reflecting Gilmour’s number 93 will be raised to the rafters at Air Canada Centre prior to the Leafs game against Pittsburgh.
The 56-year-old Burns, who has undergone chemotherapy to repel colon and liver cancer, now has lung cancer. He will refuse any further chemotherapy. Gilmour did not say if he would be there but it seems very unlikely.
“I have been playing phone tag right now,” Gilmour said. “After we get off, I’m going to give another call just to see how he’s making out. He’s a strong fellow, a man I totally respect.”
In 1992, Gilmour was playing in his first full Leafs season. Burns had just been announced as the club’s new coach.
It was the beginning of a short but magical run.
“It was a lunchbox work ethic that we all shared,” Gilmour said. “We were all young. That was one team with no animosity, no jealously; we all liked each other. We hung together off and on the ice.”
At the centre of it was Burns, the one-time Hull cop whose withering critiques often peeled the blue paint off the walls of the Gardens. But Burns was sage; he went easy on his team when it lost. When the team was at its best was when Burns turned taskmaster.
Gilmour has gone to the source to prepare for Saturday. He turned to Wendel Clark whose number 17 was retired earlier this season.
Like Clark, Gilmour will opt for a short speech.
“First and foremost, the biggest thing is the thank-yous,” said Gilmour. “Plus, we’ve got to get everything rolling, there’s a game going on.”
Now the head coach of the Kingston Frontenacs, Gilmour has dabbled in various businesses before turning to coaching, first in the Spengler Cup, then the Marlies and finally, back home in Kingston.
“I’ve got 16 or 17 kids returning,” he said. “I’m committed for another year, 100 per cent.”
The Frontenacs have struggled mightily but Gilmour, as incendiary a competitor as ever laced on skates, insists he has taken it in stride.
“As far as the competitive side, you have to take a back seat. When I put my helmet on, I was a complete idiot. I didn’t care if it was a friend or not. You can’t do that as a coach.
I’m dealing with kids. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve made mistakes and will make more. I’ve enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to this challenge.”
Gilmour left the Leafs as its all-time leading playoff scorer with 70 points in 52 games.
Gilmour only played 393 regular season games as a Leaf, the equivalent of five seasons. He scored 131 goals and recorded 452 points.