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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 Christmas Eve in the late 1970s, Burns was directing traffic when a car approached, weaving crazily. Burns waved the driver over and told him to leave the car and walk home. "It was Christmas Eve, and I wanted to cut him a break," says Burns. But the man became belligerent, so, Burns says, "we ended up brawling in the middle of the street, and I had no choice but to bring him in."

Two hours after the man was released on his own recognizance, he returned with a rifle and, says Burns, started "blowing the police station apart. Pieces of cement were flying everywhere." The man eventually surrendered, and no one was injured.

After seven years in uniform, Burns, who had taken courses in drug enforcement, fraud identification, scuba diving and hostage negotiations, became a detective and was used in numerous undercover operations. One involved the infiltration of a motorcycle gang. For that assignment he grew a beard, wore his hair in a ponytail and rode a Harley-Davidson; he even went so far as to have HARLEY-DAVIDSON tattooed on his left deltoid.

Another time, Burns spent two weeks undercover in a Quebec jail. "Not even the guards knew I was a policeman," he says. And it gets worse: "Every few nights I had to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs on the inmates' TV."

All the while, Burns had been moonlighting as a hockey coach, first at the bantam level and then in a local midget league. In 1983, while still a cop, he became coach of the Hull (Que.) Olympiques, an independent Junior A team. The Olympiques made the playoffs and the next summer got a new owner, who asked Burns to fly to Edmonton for a meeting. "Pat, I want you to stay on as coach," said the owner.

"I'm not sure I can do this again," said Burns, recalling the grind of working two jobs at once.

"Why don't you ask for a sabbatical leave?" asked the owner.

"My superiors will never go for it."

"Well, I know a few people here and there. Maybe if I made a couple phone calls...." Then the owner, Wayne Gretzky, winked.

Burns got his sabbatical. In 1985-86 the Olympiques reached the finals of the Memorial Cup, junior hockey's equivalent of the Stanley Cup. But the more success Burns had as a coach, the more unsettled his future became. The Gatineau police were willing to have him back, when Gretzky offered him a three-year contract with the Olympiques after the '86-87 season. Savard then offered him a three-year contract to coach Sherbrooke.

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