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Mike Ulmer has worked for seven news organizations including the National Post and, most recently, the Toronto Sun. Mike has written about the Leafs for 10 years and wrote Captains, a book about the club's greatest leaders.
December 12, 2006
They filled Suite 227 of the Air Canada Centre and when another came to the door they shuffled some more beef and brought him in.
The greats, Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour mixed with the mortals, Dmitri Mironov and Bill Berg and Todd Gill, with the same ease they always did.
Mike Kitchen, fired the day before in St. Louis, was there. So were Felix Potvin and Dave Andreychuk. Kent Manderville just got off a flight from Europe to get to Suite 227.
|Wendel Clark and the 1993 Leafs always have a place in the hearts of Leafs Nation |
(Graig Abel Photography)
The 1993 Leafs are the closest a Toronto team has come to getting to the Stanley Cup finals. Only Wayne Gretzky could keep them away from a date with the eventual Cup winners, the Montreal Canadiens.
The architect of that team, Cliff Fletcher, dived into the room. Gilmour and Clark were, of course, the heart.
But the ringleader was an ex-cop from Quebec, named Pat Burns.
"After a game if I played bad, he gave me the police stare," Gilmour remembered. "I'd say, "I got you.' He didn't have to say a word.
"We were overachievers, but we were good. And he made us work."
Pat Burns is a consultant for the Devils these days, working from a home base in Florida. The colon cancer was first announced in April of 2004. There were thoughts of a comeback, but the cancer returned again a year later and those thoughts were put aside.
He looks marvelous, tanned and plush. The hair's a little thinner, but not much. The cop's act still has legs.
"These guys thought they had fooled me," he said, all mock bravado. "I knew what was going on."
And he does.
"This is the best I've ever felt," he said. "There's never a full remission when you have this. They have to keep on top of it all the time. It's something that they have to watch and watch and watch."
A life eating bad food, agonizing over losses and catching airplanes is no longer in the cards so Pat Burns studies the game and sometimes, agonizes over a desire to come back.
"I'd certainly like to accomplish more. It's something that's always there and it doesn't go away. It's always in you."
Clark and Gilmour did the legwork. Suite 227 was rocking and collegiate. The stories were about the past. Nothing warms you better than a cold beer and a shared past.
Suite 227 brought the boys who played for him back to the man who made them and there is no telling how many times that happens in a life, in any life.
I had a friend. Her name was Anna. She was ill. One night we met for supper and she was as vibrant and alive as I have ever seen her. That is my memory of her and the most lasting gift she gave me.
No one knows if that will be the case for any or all of the hockey players in Suite 227. I hope it isn't. But cancer turns plans into jokes and quiet moments into gold.
At the end of the day, they will tell you in Suite 227, you remember love.
"I have a summer home in New Hampshire," Pat Burns was saying. "I have a big picture of the 92-93 Leafs over the top of my fireplace. People come in and say "why wouldn't you have the Devil team there?' The Leafs were a different style of team. It was a team that the guys loved each other. It was a family."
It turns out the cop cared. Time and illness have only sharpened the feelings.
"They knew about everything, and everybody cared about everything," marveled Pat Burns. "It was amazing."