November 14, 2016

The Late Pat Quinn Goes Into Hockey Hall Of Fame

It has been nearly two years to the day and I'm still in disbelief that Pat Quinn has passed away.

The 71 year old died back on November 23rd, 2014, leaving quietly and surprisingly as almost no one knew of his illness.

There are very few people in the hockey world that I respect at the same level as Pat Quinn. For all his lengthy accomplishments in a lifetime devoted to hockey, Quinn was an even better person.

Many of us only know Pat Quinn was the imposing coach and builder. But there was a time when he was one of the most intimidating NHL players, too.

After playing five seasons of minor pro hockey in places like Knoxville, Tulsa, Memphis, Houston and Seattle, Pat Quinn first played in the NHL in 1968-69 and 1969-70 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He was a giant, physical defenseman, and he quickly was tagged as intimidating and mean-spirited. He only played in 99 games in the blue and white, scoring just two goals while collecting 12 assists for 14 points with 183 penalty minutes. 

Quinn's most famous moment with the Leafs - and probably his entire playing career - came in an infamous game in which the big Irishman caught Bobby Orr, the league's best player, with his head down. Though he was tagged with a 5 minute major for elbowing, in reality the hit was clean but it devastated the superstar Bruin defenseman, knocking him out with a concussion. Needless to say Quinn made a name for himself around the entire hockey world that night!

Despite the stigma that comes from such incidents, Quinn, unlike some other players in history, was able to overcome that and prove he was a valuable hockey player and not just "the guy who clocked Bobby Orr." Perhaps that was in part due to the fact that he was moved on from the Leafs and got a chance to play a bigger role when the Vancouver Canucks claimed him in the 1970 NHL expansion draft. He played two seasons on the West Coast scoring 4 goals and collecting 14 assists.

The Atlanta Flames made the original Canuck an original Flame on June 6, 1972 when the expansion team from Georgia claimed the 6'3" 205lb native of Hamilton Ontario in their expansion draft. Quinn would go on to enjoy 5 seasons with the Flames as a steady, defensive, hard hitting blueliner.

Quinn retired in 1977 with 18 goals and 131 points in 606 games. He added an assist in 11 playoff contests. Wherever he played he commanded and ensured respect for his teammates. In doing so he became one of the most respected figures on the ice.

Quinn would go on to achieve much greater fame as an NHL coach and general manager. He would twice be named the NHL's best coach. He led the Philadelphia Flyers to a record 35 games without a loss in 1979-80 and a 1st place finish before bowing out to the dynastic New York Islanders in the 1980 Stanley Cup finals.

Pat would end up in the sunny weather of Los Angeles where he brought some respectability to a very weak mid-1980s team. Each of the three seasons he was in Hollywood the Kings made the playoffs.

One of the most controversial events in hockey history occurred in December 1986. While still coaching with the Kings, Quinn, who had studied and became an astute lawyer in the few years when he was out of hockey (he has a law degree from Widener University, Delaware School of Law), signed with the Vancouver Canucks to be come their general manager and president effective the following season. In the meantime Quinn remained the coach of the Kings. The Kings of course cried bloody murder, and the NHL fined Vancouver heavily. However, after much legal hullabaloo, Quinn did end up in Vancouver the following season.

The Canucks were every bit as bad as the Kings in those days. But the mighty Quinn would build the once weak franchise into a Stanley Cup contender, only to fall one goal short in game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs. Quinn was responsible for bringing in such memorable Canucks as Trevor Linden, Pavel Bure, Kirk McLean, Jyrki Lumme, Cliff Ronning, Greg Adams and Geoff Courtnall.

Quinn was somewhat surprisingly dismissed by new ownership in Vancouver, although the team had gone downhill ever since that incredible 1994 Stanley Cup crescendo. Still, it is easily arguable that no one man had such influential impact on the franchise than Quinn. He arrived to coach a bunch of lovable losers. He left the team as a much respected on the ice and even more so off of it. The Canucks became one of the most powerful franchises in all of professional sports.

Quinn was a father figure not only for the Vancouver Canucks, not only for Trevor Linden, Pavel Bure, Gino Odjick and the gang. He was a father figure for a generation of Canucks fans like myself.

During the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Vancouver Canucks run at the Stanley Cup Quinn looked back on the events solemnly, almost as if he was still heartbroken by the game 7 loss. It is something I will never forget, because I knew exactly how he felt. Our generation of fans all knew exactly how he felt.

Quinn resurfaced in Toronto and helped to bring respect back to the blue and white, the team he first broke in with 30 years earlier. Quinn had a bumpy ride with the relentless Toronto media at times, but he delivered results.

Quinn can come across as a pretty mean person at times - a trait from his old playing days. But ask anyone who's ever played for him and they'll tell you that he's the kind of coach who you will go through a brick wall for. Quinn, who is bigger than almost every player he's ever coached, commands and demands respect and hard work. In return he's extremely loyal, probably to a fault.

Such respect around the hockey world and his tremendous experience were two of the reasons why the gum chomping Quinn was selected by Wayne Gretzky to coach the 2002 version of Team Canada at the Salt Lake Olympic Games. Not yet able to hoist the Stanley Cup over his head, returning the Olympic gold medal to Canada for the first time in 50 years stand as his greatest coaching accomplishment.

Quinn briefly coached the Edmonton Oilers and Canadian national junior teams in recent years. He was also part owner of the WHL Vancouver Giants and a powerful figure as chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame. 

It is unfortunate that his role at the Hockey Hall of Fame all but ensured his own inclusion as an honoured member would have to wait until he retired. Unfortunately Pat Quinn's obvious status as one of hockey's great builders has resulted in a posthumous award.

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