Hockey fans — including Prime Minister Stephen Harper — greeted an ailing Pat Burns with a standing ovation on Friday, at an event announcing the construction of a new hockey arena in Quebec's Eastern Townships that will carry the award-winning coach's name. 

'I probably won't see the final project.' — Pat Burns, former NHL coach

Burns, a former NHL coach, has terminal lung cancer.

He was warmly welcomed by Harper, Senator Jacques Demers and other federal politicians, who were on hand to announce funding for the new arena, to be built at Stanstead College, a private boarding school in Stanstead, Que., near the U.S. border. The arena is to be completed by 2011.

"I probably won't see the final project," said Burns, who appeared thin and frail. "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)."

Burns, 58, flew to Quebec from Tampa, Fla., for Friday's announcement in Stanstead.


Former NHL head coach Pat Burns, battling lung cancer, speaks to reporters Friday at the announcement of a new arena to be named after him. ((Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press))

Harper praised Burns for his stellar reputation in the hockey world.

"I know that he's just universally well regarded by all the players he's coached and the management he's worked for," said Harper, who counts hockey history as one of his passions.

The prime minister said one of his fondest memories of Burns is his stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs the year he took the team to the Stanley Cup semifinals, where they lost.

"[It] just goes to show that when it comes to the Maple Leafs organization, that a great coach can take a team a long way, but only God can do miracles," Harper said.

"I think it speaks to his ability to go to any organization and to get the best from any organization."

Burns has also coached the Montreal Canadiens, the Boston Bruins and the Stanley Cup-winning New Jersey Devils in 2003.

He had colon cancer during the 2003-2004 NHL season and developed liver cancer in 2005. He underwent chemotherapy for the first two cancers but has said he would abstain from treatment this time.