Pat Burns deals with 3rd cancer head-on
Former NHL head coach 'just a regular guy trying to get through life'
For 14 National Hockey League seasons, Pat Burns took shots from players, fans and media while coaching in Montreal, Toronto, Boston and New Jersey.
And now in retirement as he deals with cancer for a third time — he was diagnosed with lung cancer in January after previously surviving colon and liver cancer — he's taking more abuse from people in Florida.
Only now, it's mostly in good fun from those who have pinpoint accuracy at the driving range and can fire a golf ball at the ball-retrieving vehicle, which he had a chance to drive recently at a facility down the road from his home. Burns befriended the owner of the range and had an itch to get behind the wheel.
"I've always wanted to drive the cart that picks up the balls and get people to hit you," Burns told Scott Morrison of Hockey Night in Canada. "There was a guy from Montreal that was hitting balls and he saw me go by and he stopped his swing and pointed at me. He was in awe.
"It's little things like that that you want to do sometimes that people don't think that that's important. That was an important day for me."
After twice undergoing chemotherapy during his two previous illnesses, Burns, 56, decided to forego such treatment this time. He's choosing to fight the disease in other ways.
In recent years, Burns has learned to not listen so much to people on the outside, but has kept in close contact with his doctors.
He still does his morning show with a Montreal radio station Monday to Friday; rides his motorcycle; plays golf with his wife Lynne; watches hockey and attends games.
The three-time NHL coach of the year just doesn't have the energy he did while fashioning a record of 501-353-165-15 in 1,019 games behind the bench before retiring in 2005.
Burns is also in a climate that keeps his spirits high. There are down days — but none that have the former police officer from Gatineau, Que., down in the dumps.
On those days, he relies on Lynne, who will suggest a round of golf before dinner if Burns is seeking something to do.
"She's been great," Burns said. "She knows when I'm trying to do too much."
Burns, who led the Devils to their last Stanley Cup in 2003, misses the routine of coaching.
"I miss the practice times; I miss the morning skates," said Burns, who learned he had lung cancer after returning from coaching at the men's world hockey championship last spring in Halifax and Quebec City.
"The excitement of going in the old Maple Leaf Gardens, the excitement of going in the Montreal Forum or the FleetCenter in Boston and New Jersey and the Meadowlands. There was something about that before a hockey game — that electricity that existed — that I really, really miss and probably that's why I like going to games because I can feel some of it anyway."
But don't feel sorry for Burns. The combative coach in him doesn't want any pity.
"I've had a great life. I've had an enjoyable life," he said. "I've been lucky to be part of one of the greatest sports, the National Hockey League.
"I was a police officer for a long time. I protected the public. Just a regular guy trying to get through life, that's exactly who Pat Burns is. I think just being myself is the most important thing for me."
Important to Burns's legion of followers is his willingness to never back down from a challenge.