The hockey world and its fans are in a state of remembrance on Monday, after the passing of beloved coach and player Pat Quinn.
Quinn died on Sunday night at Vancouver General Hospital after battling a “long illness”. He was 71 years old.
“British Columbians knew him best as one of the finest players, coaches and leaders the NHL has ever produced,” said B.C. Premier Christy Clark this morning, in a statement. Clark offered “thoughts and prayers” to Quinn’s family and friends and called him an “original Canuck”.
“Pat was a big man with a bigger heart whose legacy will live on for generations, in the hockey world and beyond,” she continued. “His approach to his illness was the same as his approach to hockey: a challenge he met head on.”
The ‘Big Irishman’, as he was known, began his coaching career with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1980, leading the team to a 35-game winning streak and the Stanley Cup Finals in his first season. The Flyers would lose to the New York Islanders in six games.
Quinn then began coaching the Los Angeles Kings in 1984, leaving them two years later to become President and General Manager of the Vancouver Canucks. He would begin coaching the Canucks in the 1990-91 season after being suspended by the NHL for apparently breaking his contract with L.A.
In his tenure with the Canucks, Quinn would draft all-time franchise greats like Trevor Linden (1988) and Pavel Bure (1989), and made trades to acquire fan favourites like goaltender Kirk McLean, to-be overtime hero Greg Adams, and Markus Naslund in 1996.
“We have lost a great man,” Linden said Monday, in a statement published on Canucks.com. “It’s a sad day for hockey and for everyone who loves our game. On this difficult day I am thinking about Pat, his family and his friends, and how much he will be missed.
“I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for Pat. He was a great leader and always a teacher. He taught me how to be a professional on and off the ice. He taught me how to play hockey the right way, how to win, and about the importance of respect and loyalty.
“Pat’s impact on our city has been immeasurable. He was responsible for bringing hockey to the forefront in Vancouver. He brought the pride back to the Canucks and today his finger prints and impact are still felt within this organization.”
Quinn (of course) led the Canucks to their second Stanley Cup Finals in 1994, where they lost an intense, seven-game series to the New York Rangers. It was the final time Quinn would coach in a Stanley Cup Final, although he would lead the Toronto Maple Leafs to two Eastern Conference Finals (1999 and 2002) after joining the Buds as their head coach in 1998. (Quinn was fired by the Canucks in 1997.)
Quinn would coach in Toronto through the 2005-06 season, and he then spent one season behind the bench of the Edmonton Oilers.
Quinn also played in the NHL as a defenceman, splitting nine season between Toronto, Vancouver, and the Atlanta Flames. He was on the Canucks’ inaugural team that restarted the franchise in 1970 and is perhaps most well-known for delivering a thunderous body check to star blueliner Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins, in the 1969 playoffs.
Internationally, Quinn perhaps had his greatest accomplishments as a coach.
Together with a management group led by Wayne Gretzky and a team captained by Mario Lemieux, Quinn won his country a gold medal as the bench boss of Team Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake – the first time in 50 years a Canadian team had topped the podium in ice hockey. He also coached Canada to a gold medal at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and reprised his role for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.
“He commanded respect from his staff and from the players,” Gretzky told TSN’s Gino Reda on Monday. “It’s a short tournament and when you have a short tournament, you don’t get a lot of opportunity or a long chance to pull a group of 23 players together over a nine-day period. I just felt very comfortable that Pat Quinn was the guy that could make the co-coaches feel comfortable, and he could bring together 23 players… check our egos at the door just like our head coach did, and we’re gonna become one.
“He took care of his families, he took care of his friends. He definitely took care of his players and just as important, he cared about the game of hockey itself and took care of the game.
“We had some wonderful moments together and some great times. He was just a treat and very enjoyable to be around.”
Quinn was well-known during his career for being a players’ coach – the kind of motivator and mentor who used all four forward lines and all six (or seven) defencemen.
“He understood the importance of his elite players,” Gretzky continued. “He knew how important the core players or the elite player was to the group, but just as important… the guys who sort of were on the checking line, the third or fourth lines, he made them feel as comfortable and as important to the hockey team as he did the elite players.
“When you have success as a team, each and every guy has to have the opportunity to contribute to the club. And he was the same with his (assistant) coaches.”
Quinn coached Canada at the 2006 Spengler Cup and then coached the country’s teen team at the 2008 IIHF World U18 Championships.
Quinn would win another international gold medal in 2009, this time as the coach of Canada’s World Junior (U-20) team, leading a team that included John Tavares, Cody Hodgson, P.K. Subban, Jamie Benn, and Jordan Eberle to an undefeated record and a fifth consecutive gold. After memorable come-from-behind wins over the Americans and the Russians, Canada won the tournament’s final, 5-1 over Team Sweden.
Quinn was born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1943. The street where he grew up on, Glennie Avenue, is now named Pat Quinn Way.
“It is devastating that he will never see Hamilton again, and Hamilton will never see him again,” wrote The Spectator‘s Steve Milton this morning.
“Quinn was the chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame when he died, and is almost certainly bound for the Hall himself one day for his coaching achievements.
“But for those of us who knew this strong family man well his biggest achievement was being who he was. We are all diminished by his loss.”
At the time of his death, Quinn was the acting chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and a co-owner of the Vancouver Giants WHL team.
“Whether he was playing for a team, coaching a team or building one, Pat Quinn was thoughtful, passionate and committed to success,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday. “Pat’s contributions to hockey, at every level, reflected the skills he possessed and the great respect with which he treated the sport.
“The National Hockey League, one of the many organizations to benefit from his devoted service, sends heartfelt condolences to Pat’s loved ones and his many friends around the hockey world.”
SLIDESHOW: Tributes flood in after passing of hockey icon Pat Quinn