TORONTO — A few months ago, Line Burns was driving to see a friend and stopped in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, where she used to live with her husband.
She was gassing up her car and getting something to eat when her phone rang. On the other end were Pat Quinn and John Davidson from the Hockey Hall of Fame telling her that Pat Burns would finally be enshrined four years after his death.
“It was meant to be,” she said. “He was probably laughing up there.”
Line recalled recently how she and her husband used to laugh so much at home. She couldn’t help but laugh that night when a video montage of Burns’ best and angriest coaching moments were shown on the video screens at Air Canada Centre.
Those included him winning the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils, yelling at referees and going after Barry Melrose.
“I’m sure it wasn’t fun at that time,” Line said, “but it was hilarious.”
Burns goes into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday along with Dominik Hasek, Peter Forsberg, Mike Modano, Rob Blake and referee Bill McCreary.
Before his death, Pat talked to his wife about the Hall of Fame.
“It was something like, ‘I hope I’ll get in one day, and if I get one day, I hope you’re going to be there to represent me,’ ” she said.
There’s some quiet anger that the selection committee didn’t get it done before Burns died of cancer on Nov. 19, 2010. But more than anything else there’s relief and joy that the coach is getting his due.
“In addition to being a great coach, he was widely respected throughout the hockey world for being a terrific person,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday. “It’s nice to see somebody like Pat recognized and having his legacy preserved.”
Davidson has been on the committee for many years but was serving as chairman for the first time. He said the process is different every year.
“You have different people that vote for different reasons,” he said. “I don’t want to go and think about the past and what happened or didn’t happen. He’s in, he deserves to be in and his wife and his family are ecstatic and that’s just the way it should be.”
Burns clearly had a résumé that merited induction.
After 17 years as a police officer in Gatineau, Quebec, he led the Hull Olympiques to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title and coached in the American Hockey League before making his way to the NHL. There, in 14 seasons he won the Jack Adams as coach of the year three times — with the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins.
“Pat Burns was the best coach I had during my career in the National Hockey League,” said Mats Sundin, a Hall of Fame center. “He meant everything for me as I came to the Maple Leafs and also became the captain, too. He really taught me everything.”
Burns made the Cup final with the Canadiens and got the Leafs to Game 7 of the Campbell Conference final in 1993, when they lost to the Los Angeles Kings. He had a career winning percentage of .573 and reached the pinnacle of the sport with New Jersey in 2003.
Line Burns believed her husband was proudest of winning the Cup because it was “a big dream of his.”
So much so that they slept with the trophy that June 9 night.
Asked how her husband would have felt if he were alive for this moment Monday night, she said: “He would’ve been so honored. He would’ve been very humbled — probably speechless for the first time in his life.”
Burns was never the silent type. Blake got a kick out of seeing highlights of him hollering at officials, and Hasek described the coach as having “the kind of emotion you like.”
“Pat was very emotional, but he always made his players accountable,” McCreary said. “He never passed that on to the officials. He made them accountable for their actions. Pat and I had some go-‘rounds, but he was very professional. He never held a grudge.”
Modano almost played for Burns in Hull, but the Olympiques chose to take another player instead. Over his NHL career, the longtime Minnesota and Dallas center said he talked to plenty of teammates who enjoyed playing for Burns.
“Pat was phenomenally respected around the league, one of those coaches that players I heard loved playing for,” Modano said. “Mutually respected between coaches and teammates and that’s all you could always ask for. He’s upfront, honest, told you where you stood, what was your role. Those are usually the best guys.”
Line Burns recalled how different her husband was at work and at home.
“I knew the two different Pats,” she said. “One was at work, so focused, so disciplined, he was so focused. I never saw a guy focused like that. At home, my God, he was a pure joy. He was so funny.”