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Remembering Pat Quinn with fondness and deep respect

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.


  1. That was a fantastic tribute Michael, as many have been today from those close to Pat. I'm not old enough to have enjoyed Pat's playing years, but he coached the Buds during probably my most obsessive watching period, being in my late 20's and single, I never missed a game during Pat's tenure.

    He certainly had big shoulders (physically and metaphorically), especially when you look at the success he had under the mighty Pension Plan regime in Toronto. As an outsider, one always had a sense that he at least tried to be a brick wall between that ownership group and the players, although sometimes a player slipped through the cracks and ended up at Larry Tannenbaum's house for a covert luncheon.

    I heard Pat being interviewed on Sportsnet my Brunt/McCown, when Shanny was hired as the new President of Hockey Ops, and Quinn's comments were more or less asking... "Isn't that what the GM is supposed to do?". I guess that goes back to my 'big shoulders' comment, as I can't imagine Pat being a shrinking violet needing a buffer between himself and the suits.

    I had to laugh out loud (the legitimate kind, not the internet 'lol') a few times today, when ex-players were talking about Pat screaming at referees, barking about anything and everything between whistles, and sometimes before the puck even dropped to start the game! That's the Pat Quinn I remember the most. Chris Pronger was saying that Pat would tee off on international referees in Salt Lake City for next to nothing, the fun part being that Quinn full well knew the official could barely say hello in English. Sounds like it provided shits and giggles for the players in an otherwise tense environment.

    The corporate sports world isn't conducive to producing as many giants of the game as once existed, and we sure lost one of the best today.

    1. Thank you, Russ and thank you for for comments on Pat- well said.

      Pat was fiercely loyal when it came to his players, his team, his family and his country. You know how we sometimes say that a person was "larger than life". To me, Pat was larger than life.

    2. Incidentally Michael, I had no idea of your history, and that you and Pat had a professional and personal relationship. Feel free to fill your blog with memories that are proper and respectful to share, as plenty in Leafs Nation would be appreciative. Pat Quinn is the last management figure for this team that is universally seen in a positive light. And beyond the Leafs, he's a giant in the hockey world, regardless of your emotional investment in a particular team.

    3. I'll think on that, Russ- thank you.

  2. Thank you, Michael, for sharing your thoughts on Pat Quinn. It's clear he had an effect on almost all who knew or worked with him.
    My first awareness of Pat was in his Leaf days - a big, tough "new guy" on defence. I clearly remember the check he nailed Orr with in the playoff game. I saw it today, and you could still feel the impact across the room. A clean check, and Orr was laid out colder than a pickle. That open ice hit you mention was another beauty.
    Leafs TV showed a Leafs/Wings game from 1969 today - both Quinn and Murray Oliver were playing for the Leafs. I thought it was a fine tribute to both men. (By the way, I had completely forgotten that Baun ended up on the Wings - that was a surprise.)
    As a coach, Pat seemed to be cut from the same cloth as Punch Imlach and Fred Shero - tough, no-nonsense, get-out-there-and-play! He attributes the Leafs' loss to the Canes in 2002 to his absence behind the bench for a couple of games because of heart issues. I think he's probably right.
    What is clear is that he seemed to really like his players, and I think they responded in their play. I believe the 103 point season (in 2003?) is the best the Leafs have done, and if memory serves, he also had two other 100 point seasons.
    For me, he, the other Pat (Burns) and Punch Imlach are the greatest coaches we've had since I started watching back in the late 50's. It's impossible not to feel a sense of sad loss today.

    1. Good to hear from you, Gerund O', and your reflections on Pat. Thank you.

  3. I always liked Pat Quinn and I guess it started with my Dad's appreciation for the player (in his youth) when I first started to watch the Leafs. I'm quite sure Pat reminded Dad of his own playing days (as a defenseman and captain of his teams - not to mention football and Track & Field). The stories Dad would tell are reminiscent of the ones I'm hearing today about Pat. Is it any surprise that I actually saw a lot of my Dad in Pat. So it has been a bittersweet day for me, too - memories mixed with final farewells.

    It's been great to hear more of the stories behind the scenes from so many of the people whose lives were impacted by the man that I feel I know him even better than I thought possible. I fully support your respect for the privacy perspective you have honoured and I would never ask you to share anything that is under a non-disclosure or that has been shared with an expectation of your continued silence.

    I would only say that anything not within such a proper 'boundary' would be of great interest to me (and I'm sure I'm not alone). If you know that all such memories must be kept private, I trust you will always remember them fondly in the maintenance of your integrity (and his trust).

    I was quite sure you did a podcast (or 2?) with Pat, but couldn't find the link. Is there anything 'active' that we could re-visit still on the web?

    It may be one more way to share his legacy without violating honour :) - Perhaps a guideline for sharing (anything potentially close to the margins) would be if you know he (or his family) would enjoy or appreciate having the story told. People trust you because you are trustworthy, Michael.

    Thank you for sharing what you've written today and for adding to his greater eulogy.

  4. Thank you for (as always) a thoughtful post, InTimeFor62. I will check on the old audio links!

  5. Hi Michael:
    Nice post on Pat Quinn.

    While I never knew Pat, I did have the opportunity to play against him in minor and high school hockey in Hamilton area. While he was a couple years younger, I remember him as a very aggressive defender in front of the net.

    It is good to hear of the success of a good old Hamilton boy, but his passing reminds us all of our own mortality.

    1. Thank you, Ralph (RLMcC). It's great that you competed against him years ago. I know that he was a good all-around athlete, played football, etc.

      Pat truly led a full life. Thanks Ralph.

  6. Those were the years to be a Leaf fan, with Quinn behind the bench. I never had the opportunity to meet him but I have had people in my life with that sort of presence. My dad was like that. Without seeing him, you knew and felt the very moment he walked into a room and so did everyone one else no matter the size of the gathering. It must be pure instinct that we recognize that sort of power though we seldom acknowledge it. We're just drawn without knowing why.

    I'm so sorry that you've lost a friend in Pat Quinn, Michael, but so very glad for you that you knew him.

    1. Thanks Colleen. Yes, Pat was one of those individuals who, perhaps like your Dad, had that awe-inspiring presence. Pat had a wide circle of friends and impacted for the better so many lives. He touched a lot of people and was himself so highly regarded.