Yesterday Pat Burns, the former head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs lost his battle with cancer. There was great excitement back in 1992, when the Leafs hired him and prior to his hiring, the Leafs were a terrible team. They were the Bad News Bears on ice and during the 80s and they were absolutely pathetic. Before coaching in Toronto, Burns took the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in 1989 and they eventually lost to Calgary. With his hard nosed style of coaching and GM Cliff Fletcher's crafty trades, they built a powerful team and made hockey exciting in Toronto again.
I was in my mid twenties when the Leafs started to become a contender. I was probably the only Leafs fan as most of my friends rooted for the Habs. I would never consider jumping on the bandwagon. The Leafs were a stacked team and Saturday nights we cheered on Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Felix Potvin, Gary Anderson, and Dave Andreychuk. I didn't hear the Habs fans talk shit, they were yesterday's news. The Leafs were the talk of the town now.
In 1993, a Montreal and Toronto cup final was becoming a possibility. The Leafs dispatched the Red Wings and Blues in seven games. Then it was the Kings and Wayne Gretzky. Both teams fought it out and several games were decided in overtime. The Leafs took the Kings to game seven. In overtime, Gretzky high sticks Gilmour and he draws blood, but referee Kerry Fraser misses it. Leafs fans are livid and then the rest is history. Gretzky scores and with that dashes the dreams of a cup final. I was 25 years old at the time. The last time the Leafs won the cup, I was born a year later in 1968.
I loved Burns gruff and no bullshit attitude. When McSorley elbowed Gilmour during the final period in game 1 of the Campbell Conference finals. We watched Clark cave in McSorley's face and then Burns wanted to go over and beat the shit out of King's coach Barry Melrose. When he left, the Leafs were never the same again. Burns did win his Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2003.
Thanks for the memories Pat.