One day after being ousted from the playoffs, New Jersey Devils coach Pat Burns revealed he is battling colon cancer.
At a Sunday news conference, the 52-year-old Burns said he will begin treatment immediately and that he and the club will wait five weeks (the earliest the treatment could end) to determine his status with the team.
"The last month or so I have not been feeling well," Burns said. "There were signs that something was not right but I was reluctant to do anything because the playoffs were coming up."
"For those who know me well, I've never backed down from any fight. And I'm not going to back down from this one," he said.
Burns missed a morning skate and an off-day team meeting last week. The team said in both instances he had to take care of "personal matters."
Shocked New Jersey Devils players said they hadn't noticed anything different about Burns over the last few weeks.
"He was trying to get the team ready 100 per cent just like he always does," defenceman Scott Niedermayer said. "We didn't notice anything until he didn't come to a couple of morning skates. Then we knew he wasn't feeling well."
"This definitely puts everything in perspective," fellow blue-liner Scott Stevens said. "Hopefully he'll fight through this. He's a tough guy."
The Devils lost 3-1 on Saturday against the Philadelephia Flyers as they were eliminated in the best-of-seven series in five games.
On Sunday, Burns had nothing but praise for his team's efforts while also lamenting the timing of his illness.
"I wasn't the coach I should have been the last couple of weeks, but I had a lot of things on my mind so it was understandable," he said.
Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu, who is a cancer survivor himself, said he planned to call Burns and offer support.
"When I went through it, it really helped at the beginning when I was able to talk to people who have gone through it," said Koivu, who missed most of the 2001-02 season with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Koivu said the next few days will likely be tough for Burns.
"You just try to survive and get through it," he said. "Hockey and your work and all that doesn't really play a big role in moments like that."
A three-time winner of the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach, Burns took over behind the Devils bench on June 13, 2002, and won his first Stanley Cup last year when the Devils defeated the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the final.
The St. Henri, Que., native reached earned the 500th win of his NHL career this past season, and also coached in his 1,000th game.
Burns has a career regular-season record of 501-367-151 along with a playoff record of 78-71 during coaching stints with New Jersey, the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins.
with files from CP Online