Céad Mile Fáilte!
Loosely translated it means a hundred thousand welcomes in Irish. Perhaps, a bit dramatic at times, the Irish are a fascinating people. Jovial, hard, pragmatic, tough as nails and seemingly larger than life itself.
There are many giants of hockey of Irish stock. We could certainly take an in-depth look as a whole. Today, however, it’s a good time, as it’s St Patrick’s Day, too look at perhaps the biggest Irish Titan of them all. Pat Quinn.
A man of many parts, skills, and a presence that both thrilled and electrified a room.
January 29, 1943 – a cold winter day that gave us Pat. He was born in Hamilton, Ontario at the time a good sized Canadian city home to a sizable Irish population.
It didn’t take long for Pat to hear the calling of the ice and he turned pro in the 1964-1965 season once he had graduated from high school. He was ineligible to play for Michigan and partake in college hockey because at the time of his admission he had signed his playing rights to the Detroit Red Wings.
Life, as they say, is a seemingly unconnected chain of events that often make our history. Pat’s began with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Central Alberta Hockey League where he would win his one and only Memorial Cup as a player in 1963. He would win another as part-owner of the Vancouver Giants some 44 years later
Pat played just about everywhere there was to play junior in those days, spending time in The Eastern Hockey League (EHL), Central Hockey League (CHL) and Western Hockey League (WHL). His legend expanded again in 1968 he was called up to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In a hard hit on the ice, Pat did the unthinkable.
He hit Bobby Orr so hard, that hockey’s treasure at the time lay there unconscious. Had he killed him? Surely not? Did the big Irishman not know Orr was untouchable?
In the years that followed, and the decades that passed by all was forgiven between the two and fences mended. The hit would be debated and scrutinized forever. Elbow? Or Shoulder? Only Pat and Bobby know for certain.
Pat would go on to play only two years for the Maple Leafs. In the 1970 expansion draft, he would be picked up by the new Vancouver Canucks team. In an all too familiar now move, he would only play two years for the Canucks as well. In 1972 the NHL expanded its teams again in a move to counter rival leagues and left unclaimed by the Canucks, Pat Quinn was signed by the new Atlanta Flames team and made captain. The Atlanta Flames would go on to relocate to the city of Calgary and become the Flames you know today in 1980.
Pat Quinn’s playing career came to a premature end in 1977 due to a career ending injury.
He would never play again.
Thoughts of where life would take him next were heavy on the big Irishman’s mind.
Coaching seemed like a natural progression at this point and Pat joined the Flyers and worked as an assistant under Fred Shero. In the 1979-1980 season, Quinn made the jump to head coach. In his first full season in charge, he led the Flyers to an unprecedented 35 wins in a row and a berth to the cup final. Only to suffer a shock upset to the Islanders and loose the ultimate prize. As a small consolation, he won the Jack Adams that year. It would not fill the ultimate void, though, only a Stanley Cup could.
After 5 years with the Flyers, he was unceremoniously replaced and ended up taking some time away from hockey to pursue his education and a law degree. In 1984 he would move to San Diego to complete his degree and take on the head coaching job for the Los Angeles Kings. He would improve the team and guide them back to the playoffs.
In 1987 still while technically coaching the Kings, Pat Quinn signed a deal to be the President and GM of the Canucks. Almost everyone crying foul, Quinn cited a clause in his contract and maintained the Kings had failed to meet a deadline and exercise an option to extend him.
NHL president at the time John Zeigler banned Pat from hockey operations until that June and from coaching anywhere in the NHL until the 1990-1991 season. Citing a serious conflict of interest.
Pat Quinn made an impact on the Canucks almost right away. Bringing in franchise goaltender Kirk McLean from the Devils and adding future all-time goal scorer Trevor Linden through the draft and rookie phenom Pavel Bure.
The Bure selection would be contested heavily by almost everyone and initially not only deemed illegal but resulting in a 250000$ settlement with the Russian Red Army team who had Bure under contract. Officially coaching his first full seasons with the Canucks in 91-92 Pat Quinn improved and pushed the team hard. Coming damned close to Lord Stanley’s Cup one more time in 1994. After pushing the Rangers to 7 games the run of the Canucks was over. In November 1997 Quinn was fired by new ownership and he was on the move after 10 years with the team.
In a slight repeat of sorts, he would be hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs almost 30 years after playing for the team. In his first full season coaching the Leafs, they made it to the conference finals losing to Buffalo. Soon after Quinn would take on the GM duties also. Three years later the Leafs made it back to the conference finals, ultimately losing to the Carolina Hurricanes. In every year Pat coached the team it could contend and never missed the postseason save for his last year. No one can really know for certain, however, it is the prevailing speculation that Pat left due to disagreement with the GM John Ferguson Jr.
At the time of his departure in 2006, Pat Quinn was the winningest active coach in the NHL.
With spells coaching both Canada’s national men’s team and the junior team Quinn brought honor and success to his sport and country on that level also.
In the last hurrah of sorts, the Edmonton Oilers brought in Quinn to coach the team in 2006 after his three-year absence from the league. He was, however, unable to turn a roster of players that simply did not gel at all into a contending team. Finishing the season dead last. Quinn would be replaced in the offseason and never coach in the NHL again.
Pat Quinn left us November 23, 2014, after a long battle with illness.
A man larger than the game, powerful, strong beyond measure, respected along with the greats with whom he rightly belongs.
May he find eternal peace.