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Third-Degree Burns
Austin Murphy
February 27, 1989
Coach Pat Burns, a former cop, has stressed law and order in turning once-troubled Montreal into the NHL's hottest team
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February 27, 1989

Third-degree Burns

Coach Pat Burns, a former cop, has stressed law and order in turning once-troubled Montreal into the NHL's hottest team

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One case in point came on Jan. 18 when Richer, claiming illness, took himself off the Forum ice in the third period of a 3-1 victory over the Hartford Whalers. Burns saw to it that Richer did not suit up the next night in Hartford. On Jan. 21, right wing Claude Lemieux got tossed out of a 4-3 win over the Maple Leafs after berating an official. When Lemieux proceeded to trash the dressing room in a fit of pique, Burns saw to it that Lemieux paid for the damage.

One of the most venerated players Burns inherited was Guy Carbonneau, a seven-year veteran whom some hockey observers consider the NHL's best checking center. In October, Burns told Carbonneau to start playing two-way hockey or ride the bench for the final 10 minutes of those games in which Montreal was trailing or tied. "I don't need defense in those situations," says Burns. "I need goals."

The idea of benching Carbonneau bordered on heresy in Montreal. Nonetheless, Burns benched him—and got the result he wanted. A prolific sniper in junior hockey, Carbonneau began going to the net again—and scoring again: He has 19 goals this season, compared with 17 for all of last year.

The team-wide improvement in morale is evinced by a recent rash of practical jokes among the Canadiens: Vaseline on doorknobs, shaving cream in gloves and helmets, all the old standbys. Burns was victimized several times before he decided to make a retaliatory strike. A friend on the police force in Gatineau, Que., where Burns used to work, mailed him an envelope of a clear ultraviolet powder, which is used to track counterfeit bills. "When you try to wash it off, it turns mauve," says Burns, grinning wickedly. "The more you scrub, the darker it gets."

One morning Burns arrived early for a practice and paid a covert visit to the players' loo. After the workout the dressing room abounded with red faces and mauve cheeks.

Because of his police work, Burns sees nothing to joke about in drinking—one of the NHL's most popular extracurricular activities—and driving. Last season Burns took the Sherbrooke Canadiens on a field trip to the station house in Gatineau. The players were invited to have a few beers and then take a Breathalyzer test. "They saw how few drinks it takes to get you above the limit," he says.

This season Burns has cut back on the amount of beer on team flights. "If you put five cases in front of the guys, five cases are going to disappear," he says. "If you give them two cases, what are they going to do, parachute from 30,000 feet for another cold one?"

Eighteen years ago Burns was a washed-up junior player—a brawler—with no college education, two bum knees and one cosmic question: What am I going to do now? One of the board members of his junior team was the police chief in Gatineau. Recalling Burns"s facility with his fists, the chief invited him to give law enforcement a whirl. Burns said he would try it for six months. "I ended up staying 16 years," he says with a laugh.

Gatineau is a city of about 80,000 on the Ontario-Quebec border, 100 miles west of Montreal. Gatineau's most attractive quality to the tens of thousands of Ontarians who visit annually is that its bars stay open until 3 a.m. According to Burns, every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night at 1:15, 15 minutes after closing time for saloons in Ontario, all hell would break loose as thirsty Ontarians began to storm across the border for a nightcap.

Now when Burns sees players smear Vaseline on their faces before games (to avoid being cut should they fight), he says with mock contempt, "We didn't have time to put grease on our faces before breaking up barroom brawls."

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