Fit-looking Burns back behind bench as celebrity coach for Top Prospects

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The Montreal native has battled cancer twice since the 2003-04 playoffs, when he was forced to leave his job as head coach of the New Jersey Devils. He currently acts as a consultant to Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello.

"If a team would call me or ask to speak with me, it would have to be a family decision whether I'd go back or not," Burns said Monday at the Pepsi Colisee. "And of course, they'd have to go through the Devils.

"I'm still under contract to them and I like what I do. That would be a decision I'd have to make."

For this week, he is an honourary coach along with former Quebec Nordiques bench boss Michel Bergeron on a team of NHL prospects that will take on a side led by Scotty Bowman and Jacques Demers.

Forty players eligible for the 2007 NHL draft will take part in a skills competition Tuesday night and a game on Wednesday night (7 p.m. ET) at the Colisee.

The first practices for the two teams scheduled for Monday evening were cancelled when only about 10 made it on time due to the first major snowstorm of the year in the region. All were expected in later Monday night.

Burns coached 13 NHL seasons with Montreal, Toronto, Boston and New Jersey, winning a Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2003. He is the only coach ever to win three Jack Adams trophies as NHL coach of the year.

But his career went on hold when he was diagnosed with colon cancer during the 2003-04 playoffs. He finished a first-round series loss to Philadelphia, then had surgery and chemotherapy.

He had a second bout with cancer in 2005, but looks to be on the rebound.

"I feel great," said Burns. "I work out every day.

"I've put my things in order. But with that sickness, you never know. It can come back. Nobody can guarantee it. You live every day with that - that it can come back and then you face it and punch at it again. You keep your left up and swing with your right. That's all you can do."

Burns lives in Florida and watches a lot of games for the Devils, but stepping behind the bench in a rink where he coached many games during the Canadiens-Nordiques rivalry will be special, even if he is only an honourary coach.

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League coaches Patrick Roy, who played for Burns, and Benoit Groulx, will do the actual coaching.

Demers, who succeeded Burns in Montreal, was delighted to see him looking his old self.

"I know what my wife Debbie went thorugh when she had cancer and I know Pat went through a lot," said Demers. "I'm ecstatic.

"He's a fighter. Debbie went through it and she was successful and I believe Pat will, too. He's one of ours. Pat Burns comes in here looking healthy - that means a lot to us."

While he has been seen at NHL games this season, the Top Prospects game a kind of homecoming - certainly a very public appearance in Canada. But he said he was happy to participate.

"Especially coming back with these guys," Burns said. "Scotty lives in Flordia too, not too far from where I live.

"When he said he was coming, I said 'geez, we'll have some fun.' And Michel and Jacques are really popular in Quebec. It was a chance to come up and spend time with these guys and help these kids out."

Injuries claimed four players who were supposed to be in the game - Spencer Machacek of the Vancouver Giants, Maxime Tanguay and Olivier Fortier of the Rimouski Oceanic and Zach Torquato of the Erie Otters. Tanguay is the brother of Calgary Flames forward Alex Tanguay.

They were replaced by Stefan Legein of the Mississauga Ice Dogs, David Perron of the Lewiston Maine-iacs, Nick Spaling of the Kitchener Rangers and Bryan Cameron of the Belleville Bulls.

The players were selected by scouts from the 30 NHL teams and the'll be watched closely in the game and in closed skills tests on Tuesday morning before the skills competition before fans that night.

It is not an all-star game, with players skating at half-speed, trying not to injure each other. How high they go in the June draft could depend partly on how they perform.

"These players will be playing all out," said Bowman. "What we can do is keep them encouraged.

"If we can pass anything along to them, I would just tell them there's a lot of great hockey players, a lot of players are fairly equal, but some rise above the others because of their attitude.

"I'Il be looking to convince them that the single most important thing is attitude, beside their skills."


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