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Former NHL coach Pat Burns, who has terminal cancer, is greeted Wednesday by former Montreal Canadiens captain and coach Guy Carbonneau at a ceremony in Stanstead, Que., at the site of a future hockey arena that will bear his name. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))

Ex-NHL coach Pat Burns made a dramatic public appearance Wednesday — three weeks after the media erroneously reported he had died. 

Burns joked about the confusion as he sat down for a news conference in Stanstead, Que.

"I'm still alive," he said.

'I'm not dead yet.'—Pat Burns, ex-NHL coach

Burns, who has been battling cancer, thought he had made his last public appearance in March when the project for a new Pat Burns Arena was announced.

But he was back Wednesday for the groundbreaking ceremony, frail and resilient.

Numerous media outlets published erroneous reports last month about Burns' death and were forced to swiftly backtrack when they realized the error.

Burns pulled up to the Stanstead event riding shotgun in an SUV, slowly exited and then, with assistance, shuffled on his thin legs to a seat.

The defiant Burns, a hard coach known for his booming voice behind the bench and his passion for Harley-Davidsons, uttered a few words to a group of journalists as he walked past. "I'm not dead yet," was all Burns said as he walked past. He had little else to say and didn't speak during the news conference. 

Hockey arena to be named after Burns

Several ex-NHL players attended the event in the Canada-U.S. border town, including former Montreal Canadiens players Guy Carbonneau, Stéphane Richer and Doug Gilmour. Gilmour played for Burns in 1993, when the Toronto Maple Leafs enjoyed their longest Stanley Cup run in decades.

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Burns had little to tell reporters except that he's 'not dead yet.' ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))

Carbonneau, himself a former Habs head coach, said Burns always demanded a lot from his players.

"He was somebody who had a tough character, had a tough [style], but he was always fair with everybody," Carbonneau said.

"[He] was able to laugh and was always a fighter and we can see that today."

Burns, 58, opted to forgo any more chemotherapy or other treatments when it was diagnosed in 2009 that the cancer had returned.

The Pat Burns Arena is to be built on the campus of Stanstead College, although it will be used not only by the private school but also by residents of the town and surrounding municipalities in the Quebec-Vermont border region. It is scheduled to open next spring.

Burns is the only three-time winner of the Jack Adams trophy as the NHL's top coach.

He coached the Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils to some of their best seasons in recent memory.

Burns coached in 1,019 NHL games from 1988 to 2004, compiling a 501-350-175 record.

He guided the Devils to a Stanley Cup victory in 2003, but had to withdraw from coaching after the following season when he was stricken with cancer for the first time.