As varsity hockey coach at Arlington High, his treasured alma mater, Ed Burns had just one losing season in 50 unforgettable years behind the bench. When the legendary Burns died Sunday at age 93, the state lost the author of an incredible coaching resume, but more importantly, an individual who left an indelible mark on the hockey community.
If anyone calls into question his impact, consider two of the fixtures that bear his name: the Ed Burns Holiday Classic, and Ed Burns Arena in his hometown. And those honors were bestowed on Burns while he was still alive.
“That speaks volumes,” said John Maguire, the longtime varsity coach at Waltham High and a past president of the Massachusetts State Hockey Coaches Association.
Maguire’s tenure at Waltham High is stretching into a fourth decade. But back in 1987, when Maguire was “a relatively young pup” as a coach, Burns had already racked up a lifetime’s worth of achievements on the Arlington bench. Waltham took on Arlington the evening that Burns was recognized for 40 years as a coach.
Burns went on to coach another decade, during which the two programs went head-to-head in the Suburban League.
For Maguire, the result was one that befell many Burns foes. “We didn’t have much success — we might’ve only beaten them once or twice,’’ he said. “They had some real good teams. He was really a guy you looked up to as a young coach.”
Maguire remembers those successful Arlington teams well. They could all skate and burn foes with their speed. And the Spy Ponders played the right way, disciplined and unselfish. Oh, and Burns was not a big fan of slap shots. His defensemen almost never got to let it rip from the point.
Coaching that way worked out pretty well for Burns.
By the time his 50-year reign as the Arlington boys’ coach came to an end in 1997, he’d compiled a dazzling 695-167-62 record, plus another 110 wins as head football coach. There were five state titles, 28 league crowns, a New England championship. Countless players, including his sons, Brian (Boston College) and Gary (New Hampshire), went on to play college hockey.
Joe Bertagna, commissioner of the Hockey East, tended goal for Burns before playing at Harvard. “He really created something special,” said Bertagna, a 1969 Arlington grad. “That was the sport you wanted to be a part of. He changed the culture of the town, at least in the ’60s and ’70s..”
And there were thousands of young minds shaped, including John Messuri’s.
A 1985 graduate, he went on to become the all-time leading scorer at Princeton University. He has returned to his alma mater as head coach, standing behind the same bench as his mentor.
On Sunday, he told his players of Burns’s passing. And the Spy Ponders discussed how much Burns meant to the school and the town.
“We talked about how lucky they are,” Messuri said. “They’re putting on the uniform of the winningest high school hockey program every day.”
There were many others, too, struck by the estimable Burns’s knowledge and acumen.
Boston College men’s coach Jerry York, a Watertown native, recalls his time as a player at BC in the 1960s. The Eagles practiced at the same rink as Arlington, right after the Spy Ponders.
“I loved the way he ran his practices,” York said. “I thought he had great discipline. He had the high school kids really focused.”
Back then, by York’s estimation, Arlington regularly sent four or five players each year to play hockey at BC, where Burns had been a three-sport athlete. Inducted into the college’s Hall of Fame in 1987, he was actually drafted for football (Pittsburgh Steelers) and baseball (Philadelphia Phillies).
One day a few years back, when Burns was in his late 80s, York was at the driving range when he ran into his old friend, instantly changing the course of his afternoon.
“I got the greatest surprise. I was playing golf in Lexington [Burns’s birthplace]. . . . I turn, and it’s Eddie Burns next to me. We stopped hitting golf balls and talked hockey.”Tim Healey can be reached at email@example.com.