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Cancer claims life of legendary coach Pat Burns

by Dan Rosen /
Pat Burns, the three-time winner of the Jack Adams Award who won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils seven years ago, lost his battle with lung cancer Friday and died in his native Quebec.

Burns, 58, had already beaten colon and liver cancer, but when diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009 he refused treatment.

"Just as they will remember Pat for his success as a coach, hockey fans also will remember his humor, his honesty, his humanity and his courage," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "As it mourns the loss of an outstanding contributor to the game, the National Hockey League sends heartfelt condolences to Pat's family and friends."

Burns made his final public appearance in Quebec in late March, when he joined Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and several others at a ceremony at Stanstead College to announce plans for the Pat Burns Arena. Looking frail, Burns said he did not think he would live to see the completion of the arena next year.

Unfortunately, he was right.

"I probably won't see the final project," Burns said at the time according to CBC. "But I know one thing, is that when I'm looking down, j'espère que je vais regarder et voir un jeune Mario Lemieux ou Wayne Gretzky apparaître (I hope I will see a young Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky appear)."

A former police officer in Gatineau, QC, Burns coached 14 seasons in the NHL from 1988-2004 and compiled a 501-353-151-14 record in 1,019 games with the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils.

He won his only Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2003 and coached them one more season before announcing his retirement, due to liver cancer, after the 2004-05 work stoppage.

Burns most recently was a special assignment scout for the Devils.

He won the Jack Adams Award as a rookie coach in 1989 with Montreal, in 1993 with Toronto after guiding the Maple Leafs to the Campbell Conference Final and again in 1998 when he was behind the Boston Bruins' bench.

The coach was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2004, during the Devils' first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers. He received treatment during the summer and the ensuing work stoppage that cancelled the 2004-05 season, but just when he thought he was fit to get back in the game, Burns was diagnosed with liver cancer.

It wasn't until the spring of 2008 that Burns got back behind the bench, this time as an assistant to Ken Hitchcock for Canada's entry into the IIHF World Championships. But just a few months later Burns learned he had incurable lung cancer.

As news of his declining health became public, a Facebook campaign to get Burns into the Hockey Hall of Fame picked up steam. He was not voted to be a member of the Hall's Class of 2010.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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