Out of Town Notebook: Remembering Pat Burns, My Dad and Thoughts on Oilers Defense (or lack thereof)

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what’s happening around the NHL.]

Pat Burns

Photo credit: Toronto Star

My father’s only experience playing hockey was on outdoor rinks around Toronto, with Sears catalogues for shin pads. Yet, his lack of experience never stopped him from loving the game.

Or specifically, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

By the time I came around, it had been a long time since the Leafs had reciprocated his love. In fact, the first decade of my life (the 1980s) was spent suffering through one of the worst eras of team futility in NHL history.

My childhood is filled with memories of Saturday nights that began in hope but ended with my dad, a curse on his breath and a drink in his hand, shutting the TV off in frustration.

I thought of my father today as I learned of Pat Burns’ passing from a long-term battle with cancer.

While Cliff Fletcher gets a lot of credit for resurrecting the Leafs franchise in the 1990s (rightly deserved), it was Pat Burns who turned those personnel moves into wins on the ice.

Those 1992-93 and 93-94 Maple Leafs were a gritty, lunch-pail crew that worked their way to two Conference Finals.

For my dad, the success of these teams was a reminder of what it used to mean to be a Maple Leaf fan. To watch a team of hard-working, overachievers find their way to victory over more talented opposition.

And to have the team led by a hard-nosed, no-nonsense coach of the old-school variety.

Eventually, the window closed for Pat Burns and the Maple Leafs. He went onto success elsewhere, winning a Stanley Cup with New Jersey. If not for Hockey Hall of Fame voting shenanigans, Burns would have been enshrined a few weeks ago.

My dad never really did move on though. Despite success during the Pat Quinn era, those Pat Burns teams were the ones that held a special place in his heart, right up until he passed away in the summer of 2008.

I’d like to think there’s a chance the fan and the coach cross paths hanging out at the great big rink in the sky.


  • Kudos to Dave Shoalts, who calls for the creation of guidelines for supplemental discipline. He’s absolutely right.
  • Not to be cheeky, but do we really think Nikolai Khabibulin and Martin Brodeur are significantly hurt, or are these two veteran goalies just tired of what their teams aren’t accomplishing in front of them? In Khabby’s case, he’s definitely been overworked by Coach Tom Renney.
  • Speaking of Edmonton, the Oilers’ defense may just be the worst NHL defense in a long time. They aren’t physical, can’t make a first pass, and aren’t especially quick.
  • There are some nice young pieces playing for the Islanders, but that front office is such a mess, it’s hard to imagine this team ever putting it together. They need a real coach, a real GM, and a real owner first. All this to say? John Tavares could pull a Phil Kessel and leave at the end of his first contract.
  • He’s still as brittle as chinaware, but as goes Marian Gaborik so goes the New York Rangers. If he can stay healthy he should be in the MVP mix, because the Rangers really are a different team with him in the lineup.
  • Don’t forget, HBO previews their Penguins/Capitals documentary this weekend.
  • It’s nice that the Flyers want to play Sergei Bobrovsky as much as possible, but he’s clearly tired.
  • Marc Savard has just started non-contact practicing again, and might be in the Bruins’ lineup before Christmas. It will be interesting to see, once he returns, what effect that has on Tyler Seguin.
  • Hard to believe Todd Bertuzzi is in the best shape of his career, and playing a leadership role in the Red Wings offense. He looked completely washed up when he joined Detroit.

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1 Response

  1. Dawn says:

    thanks for sharing a bit of your childhood memories and I believe what we loved the most on earth will carry with us afterwards forever…i believe your father and Burns are enjoying the best games of their memories.
    take care.

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