I’ll say right off the top today that I won’t share much in the way of stories about former Leaf player and coach Pat Quinn, who passed on Sunday at the age of 71.
Though our relationship certainly evolved into a wonderful friendship, the professional work I did with Pat as a personal advisor beginning in the earliesh 2000s was, by definition, confidential. And I will always respect the privacy of our meetings and conversations.
But I can certainly share my thoughts about Pat on a personal level. He was simply a fine, fine individual. He was, to say the least, a straight shooter. He was also a great listener— a highly intelligent, sensitive and thoughtful individual. It was an honour getting to know Pat and his wife Sandra.
As a player, Pat was a member of the Edmonton (Oil Kings, I think) junior team that won a Memorial Cup in the early ‘60s. He had a lengthy minor league career and was part of the Montreal organization, as I recall, before he actually made his way into Punch Imlach’s Maple Leaf lineup as a rugged defenseman in the late 1960s.
He was on the Leaf blueline for a couple of years during a time of transition. He roomed with Tim Horton, if I’m not mistaken, one of the best Leafs of all time. The late 1960s was a time when the Leafs were moving out older defensemen like Marcel Pronovost, Horton, Pierre Pilote and Allan Stanley and integrating younger guys like Quinn, Jim Dorey and Rick Ley into the lineup.
Pat, of course, was involved in the famous check on Bobby Orr at the old Boston Garden during a playoff game in the spring of 1969. (He actually hammered Orr just as hard, I thought, with another crunching open ice hit at Maple Leaf Gardens a season later, but that hit didn't generate nearly as much attention.)
Pat went on to play for the expansion Canucks, and later became captain of the Atlanta Flames.
He learned the coaching side of the game from Freddie Shero in Philadelphia, and Pat himself took the Flyers to the Cup finals in 1980. It was a great playoff series, won by the emerging New York Islanders in 6 games.
Pat later coached the LA Kings and was hugely influential in reviving NHL hockey in Vancouver when he became General Manager and Coach of the Canucks. He built and led some excellent Vancouver squads through those years, culminating in the famous 7 game series against the Rangers in the spring of 1994.
He had been coach of the Maple Leafs for a while by the time I began working with him. For me, on a personal and professional level, it was one of the highlights of my life—and a privilege—to work closely with someone who was so highly regarded by countless people throughout in the game. It was a bonus that he was the coach of the team I fell in love with as a four year old back in the late 1950s.
I think it was ex-Leaf forward Tiger Williams, who played for Pat in LA, who once said something along the lines of, “If you can’t play for Pat Quinn, you can’t play for anybody…”.
One small story I’ll share is simply this: when I first met Pat in person as he greeted me at the front door of his then Toronto home, he immediately started giving me the gears about the kind of trench coat I was wearing. I knew he was my kind of guy right off the bat. We developed a lasting, respectful relationship.
You’ll hear plenty of great stories about Pat from others. I’ll just say he was indeed all the positive things you will hear others say about him: he was funny, he had a big heart and he was a family man—a devoted and proud husband, father and grandparent.
It’s been said before but it’s true: the list of names that Pat gave their first real job in the hockey industry to is lengthy and illustrious. He clearly knew talent, was not afraid to hire top people, develop them and then let them go when they were ready to fly.
Some day Pat will, I hope, receive his due and be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Has anyone else in the history of the sport coached different National teams to Olympic Gold, a World Cup victory, a U20 World Junior title and a U18 World championship?
I’ll just add this: in his later years in Toronto, when Leaf TV showed his post game media conferences, if they really listened, a person could learn more about hockey than most of us could ever imagine. The way he communicated, the manner in which he was able to break down the game in layman’s terms was quite remarkable.
My memories will stay private, cherished— and will be forever fond.