MONTREAL - An act of heartbreaking thievery generated acts of heartwarming kindness in memory of Pat Burns on Wednesday.
The hockey community rallied around the late coach's family a day after the country was shocked to learn that many of Burns' cherished possessions had been stolen in a brazen robbery following his funeral.
The Montreal Canadiens—one of the teams Burns coached in his illustrious career—said they'll do anything it takes to help his family raise money for an arena to be named after the popular coach.
"Whatever needs the family might have from our end, they know they can count on us," said Habs spokesman Donald Beauchamp.
Other hockey lovers stepped up to try to recover 30 NHL autographed jerseys so they might still be auctioned off to raise money for the Pat Burns Arena now being built in Stanstead, Que.
The sweaters as well as numerous personal items were stolen from Burns' car within hours of his funeral Monday.
Montreal police have sent out an alert on the stolen property to other forces, including the RCMP. Members of the public have called with tips which police are analyzing for possible leads.
"It's all over the place, in the media and everything," said Montreal police Const. Olivier Lapointe.
"We've been checking the pawnshops and we've been getting so many calls from the public. Other police organizations know about what was stolen."
Sports collectibles dealers also vowed to alert police to anyone trying to hawk the stolen merchandise.
Mathieu Morin, a spokesman for Classic Auctions near Montreal, said the material would be hard to sell.
"These things, I think, will be pretty easily identified if somebody tries to sell them,'' Morin said. ''People would know."
Morin, whose auction house sold Paul Henderson's 1972 Team Canada jersey last summer, deplored the theft.
"The situation was already really sad. She (Burns' widow) didn't need that. I'm sure she was going to do something pretty good with those jerseys, certainly raise money for the cause."
Walter Boshyk, owner of Toronto's Legends of the Game sports collectibles store, described the theft as "disgraceful" and didn't rule out the possibility the items were taken by an organized gang.
Boshyk said several factors would affect the price of the shirts on the legitimate market, including whether they were worn in a game, were pro shirts and who autographed them.
"That makes a big difference in price," he said. A pro shirt signed by all members of a team could fetch $1,000 in the collectibles market.
"It could quite possibly get $3,000 to $4,000 a shirt in a fundraising auction where people tend to overpay to support the fund."
Most of the money in the collectibles market is in items associated with deceased players, he said.
Hot merchandise would not go unnoticed in the collectibles market, which Boshyk described as a "very, very small subculture."
"If a shirt ends up somewhere, somebody knows. It's unbelievable."
Montreal police Const. Yannick Paradis wouldn't speculate on a motive for the theft.
"For this case we cannot say at this point if it was random or if it was actually that they were aiming at Pat Burns' vehicle," he said.
Paradis said forensic evidence gleaned from the car is being examined and he urged people to keep an eye on such websites as eBay for anything suspicious.