Pat Quinn was larger than life. Whenever he walked into a room, he commanded it. His large frame and charismatic personality could either charm, or intimidate anyone within eye contact. But he was also a solid hockey player and terrific coach, who reached success at the highest levels.
Quinn died after battling an illness this past week. He was 71 years old.
His first taste of success came in 1963 as a member of the Edmonton Oil Kings of the old Central Alberta Hockey League. Quinn helped the Oil Kings capture the Memorial Cup, emblematic of the top junior team in Canada.
However, Quinn would have to wait five more years before he suited up in the NHL. After plying his trade with the Tulsa Oilers of the CPHL, Quinn was called up by the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1968-69 season.
The Leafs made the playoffs that year and faced the Boston Bruins in the first round. It was during that series that Quinn made himself famous.
Late in the first game with the Bruins ahead 10-0, Quinn delivered a vicious elbow to the head of superstar defenceman Bobby Orr. The Bruins famed #4 lay on the Boston Garden ice unconscious while his teammates tried to get after Quinn. A bench-clearing brawl ensued as even the fans tried to get after Quinn.
Quinn move on to the expansion Vancouver Canucks in 1970, where he established himself as a fan favourite.
But the Canucks left him unprotected in the 1972 expansion draft, when the Atlanta Flames claimed him. Quinn would play five seasons in Dixie, before announcing his retirement following the 1976-77 season, due to an ankle injury.
Quinn really made his mark in hockey behind the bench. He took an assistant coaching position with the Philadelphia Flyers, under the guidance of Fred Shero in 1977. He was named head coach of Philadelphia’s AHL affiliate, the Maine Mariners in time for the start of the 1978-79 season. Midway through the campaign, the Flyers made the rare move by moving Quinn to the big club while Bob McCammon, who was coaching the Flyers, was moved down to the farm team. The Flyers did eliminate Vancouver in the first round, but were ousted by the New York Rangers in the quarterfinals. Ironically, it was Shero who was coaching the Rangers as he knocked off his protegé.
The 1979-80 season saw Quinn reach new heights. The Flyers set an NHL record by going 35 games without a loss. This despite the fact Hall of Fame goalie Bernie Parent was forced to retire due to an eye injury. Veterans such as Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and Reggie Leach were instrumental for the Flyers, but Quinn made sure the young guys such as Pete Peeters, Ken Linseman and Brian Propp were put into key roles to help the Flyers go forward into the 1980s.
The Flyers finished with the best record in the NHL, going 48-12-20 over the 80 game season. Quinn won the Jack Adams Award as the coach of the year. During that season, Quinn was going to law school at Widener University.
After sweeping Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers in the first round, Quinn met up with his mentor again in the quarterfinals. This time, the student bested the teacher as Quinn’s Flyers ousted Shero’s Rangers in five games. The Flyers had little trouble defeated Minnesota in five before facing the New York Islanders in the Finals.
It was in Game 6 where Quinn’s distrust of officials really began. With the game tied 1-1 late in the first period, the Islanders broke in on a 3-on-2 rush. Clark Gillies drop pass to Butch Goring went outside the blue line but linesman Leon Stickle waived it off. Goring fed Duane Sutter who scored giving the Islanders the lead. Bob Nystrom’s overtime winner gave the Islanders a 5-4 victory and their first Stanley Cup. Quinn was furious over the offside goal. Stickle admitted his error but the goal stood.
Quinn stayed in Philadelphia until late in the 1981-82 season when he was fired by the Flyers. The team had difficulty replicating the success from the 1979-80 season and it started to wear down Quinn. Even though the Flyers had a decent 34-29–9 record, they were behind the Islanders and Rangers in the Patrick Division.
Quinn took some time off to pursue his law degree until the Los Angeles Kings came calling. Quinn was named head coach of the Kings in time for the 1984-85 season. He also completed his law degree at nearby San Diego University. Quinn did lead the Kings to a playoff berth after the franchise missed the postseason the previous two seasons. However, the Kings were swept by Edmonton in the first round.
During the 1986-87 season, Quinn signed a deal with the Vancouver Canucks to become their general manager and president. The problem was Quinn was still under contract with the Kings. Quinn’s contention was that the Kings missed a deadline on an option in his contract thus allowing Quinn to negotiate with other teams. The case went to arbitration where Quinn’s put his legal skills to use. In the end, NHL president John Ziegler suspended Quinn for the rest of the season and didn’t allow Quinn to go to Vancouver until the end of the season. Quinn was also not allowed to coach the Canucks until the 1990-91 season. But Quinn did successfully defend himself against a tampering lawsuit brought about by the Kings.
When Quinn arrived in Vancouver, he took over a floundering franchise that needed a new direction. Sensing that some of the veterans were past their prime, Quinn started to make moves to help the club in the future. His most significant move in his first year was dealing Patrik Sundstrom to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for minor league goalie Kirk McLean and forward Greg Adams. Both McLean and Adams became integral parts of the Canucks rise in the 1990s.
Quinn also struck it rich at the draft as he selected Trevor Linden with the second overall pick in 1988. The next year, Quinn drafted Russian star Pavel Bure in the third round. But controversy reared its head yet again. Many teams thought that Bure was ineligible for the 1989 draft. However, Quinn and Canucks scout Mike Penny discovered that Bure had played enough games for the Central Red Army as exhibition games counted as games played in the Soviet Union. When the league realized this, they tipped their hat to Quinn and Penny for doing their homework. It showed the work and dedication Quinn had to make his team better by going the extra mile.
Quinn took over behind the bench midway through the 1990-91 season, and the Canucks started to trend upwards. After a playoff appearance that year, the Canucks improved greatly in 1991-92. The franchise captured its first division title in 17 seasons, topping the Smythe Division by 12 points over second place Los Angeles. The Canucks overcame a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Winnipeg Jets in the first round, but fell in the second round to the Edmonton Oilers.
The Canucks repeated their division title the next year and once again faced the Jets in the first round. During the series, Quinn referred to atmosphere in the Winnipeg Arena akin to a game show. Needless to say, Jets fans weren’t happy about that. The Canucks won the series in six games. However, the second round was another disappointment as Vancouver were knocked out by Los Angeles.
The 1993-94 regular season was a down year for the Canucks. Vancouver just managed to make the playoffs as a seventh seed in the Western Conference. The first round was looking gloomy as well, as the Canucks fell behind 3-1 to the Calgary Flames. But Quinn wouldn’t let his charges die easily. The Canucks began a magical run as they won three straight overtime games including Bure’s dazzling series winner in the seventh and deciding game. The Canucks eliminated Dallas and Toronto to set up a Final matchup with the New York Rangers.
Once again, the Canucks found themselves in a 3-1 deficit. Once again, the Canucks came back to force a seventh game. Quinn was this close to winning his first Stanley Cup. Alas, the Canucks came up a tad short, losing 3-2. It was a heartbreaking loss for Quinn and the Canucks.
Quinn moved upstairs to the GM role following the 1993-94 season, but the Canucks couldn’t recapture the success they had. Quinn showed his feistiness during a national TV interview after Don Cherry ripped Bure for holding the Canucks for ransom prior to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Quinn defended Bure in a memorable TV spot.
When the McCaw family took over ownership from the Griffiths family, Quinn could see the writing on the wall. Despite leading the Canucks on their most successful run in franchise history, Quinn was fired in November of 1997.
Quinn waited until the summer of 1998 until he landed his next job, the head coach and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. There isn’t a job in Canadian sports that has more pressure attached to it than being the bench boss of the Maple Leafs. But Quinn relished the opportunity.
The league at the time, was in the middle of the “dead puck era.” The neutral zone trap was dominating tactics and game plans as coaches used a defence first philosophy. Quinn went the opposite way, favouring an attack-first brand of hockey that was much more exciting. The Leafs showed a major improvement that season has they were 28 points better than the previous season. After playoff victories over Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the Leafs were eliminated by the Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference Final.
The Leafs continued their winning ways the following season by capturing the Northeast Division title. It also brought about a new rivalry with their provincial counterparts, the Ottawa Senators. In a bitterly contested first round series, the Leafs emerged triumphant, after six hard-fought games. That series also wore down the Leafs as they were disposed in the next round by the New Jersey Devils.
The rivalry with Ottawa grew more intense the following season. Even though the Senators swept the season series, the Leafs would get their revenge in the playoffs. Quinn played up the rivalry by saying he didn’t know the names of the Senator players. The Leafs swept the Senators in the first round. However, the Leafs were knocked by New Jersey for the second consecutive year in the second round.
That summer, Quinn was named head coach of Canada’s Olympic hockey team for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. If Quinn felt pressure coaching the Leafs, he would be under more scrutiny coaching Team Canada. The game is a religion in my country and many Canadians wanted to avenge a very disappointing fourth place finish in Nagano in 1998.
Quinn along with GM Wayne Gretzky had some difficult decisions to make. None more so then after the first game in which Canada lost 5-2 to Sweden. Canadian goalie Curtis Joseph was also the Leafs goalie at that time. Joseph struggled against the Swedes so Quinn made the decision by going with Martin Brodeur for the rest of the tournament. Joseph was upset and it caused some friction between the two.
But the moved paid dividends for Canada. Brodeur went undefeated the rest of the way and Canada claimed its first gold medal in hockey in 50 years.
Quinn returned to the Leafs and the charge of winning the gold medal seemed to inspire his club side. The Leafs defeated the New York Islanders in the first round, setting up another Battle of Ontario in the second round. In what would be the most intense series of the 2002 playoffs, the Leafs won in 7 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference Final. However the Leafs ran out of gas and were upset by the Carolina Hurricanes.
But the strains of hard playoff battles began to show on the Leafs. Joseph went to Detroit via free agency and the Leafs replaced him with Ed Belfour. Quinn retained his head coaching position but was replaced as GM by John Ferguson Jr. When Ferguson met Quinn for the first time, Quinn shook his hand and told him, “You’re not qualified for the job.” Despite a decent regular season, the Leafs lost in 7 games to Philadelphia in the first round.
The next season saw the Leafs win one more Battle of Ontario against the hated Senators. But the Flyers knocked out the Leafs for the second straight year, leaving Quinn and the city of Toronto apoplectic.
After the lockout, Quinn and the Leafs failed to reach the heights the fans were hoping for. When the team missed the playoffs following the 2005-06 season, Quinn was fired as the head coach. Quinn also experienced failure at the Olympics as Canada placed seventh in Turin.
Quinn stayed with the Canadian National program, this time coaching the future generation. In 2008, Quinn led Canada to a gold medal performance a the Under 18 World Championships. Then in 2009, Quinn’s last major triumph came at the World Junior Hockey Championships. The tournament was held in Ottawa where Quinn was public enemy #1 for many years. Now, he was the good guy, trying to coax a gold medal from this baby-faced youngsters. After a thrilling semifinal win over Russia, Canada easily defeated Sweden to capture its fifth straight gold medal at the tournament.
That tournament gave Quinn one more chance at the NHL as the Edmonton Oilers hired him to be their bench boss for the 2009-10 season. Quinn only spent one year at the job as the Oilers finished with the worst record in the NHL. Quinn moved to an advisory position with the Oilers until health problems forced him to retire.
Hockey was Quinn’s life. He was a teacher, negotiator, brawler, and a counsellor all in one. He didn’t back down from a fight, yet he had a soft side for those he cared about. The game won’t be the same without him.
You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973