Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Pat Quinn: Coaching success at all levels

This is Pat Quinn from the era of the 1979-1980 NHL season when
he coached the Philadelphia Flyers and won the Jack Adams Award
for NHL coach of the year. Photo from the Hockey Hall of Fame website.

As the calendar flipped to start the 1980s, there was one team in the National Hockey League that
everyone was talking about: the Philadelphia Flyers. They had reeled off a record-breaking 35-game unbeaten streak and were favoured to win the Stanley Cup.

They were led by their sophomore coach, a former player known for being tough and hard-nosed. His name was Pat Quinn and, after that memorable rookie season, he would go on to have one of the most distinguished coaching careers in Canadian hockey history.

Quinn was back in the news recently because, after his death last year, he recently had a street in Vancouver named after him in March.

Almost unbeatable
The 1979-1980 season was Quinn’s first full year as head coach of the Flyers. His team would record the longest undefeated streak in league history, going 35 straight games without a loss. They finished the season in first place overall with 48 wins, 12 losses, and 20 ties for 116 points.

The Flyers advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup final. Awaiting them was the New York Islanders, a team that had come close many times, and was on the verge of breaking out. They were loaded with talent, featuring the likes of Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, and Denis Potvin. The Islanders prevailed, winning in six games. The cup-winning goal is still one of the iconic moments of the 1980s: Islander Bob Nystrom tipping the puck past Flyer goalie Pete Peeters in overtime at Nassau County Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.

There was some consolation for Pat Quinn, as he was awarded the Jack Adams trophy as the league’s best coach at the end of that season.

The rest of the decade
Quinn coached two more years with the Flyers, going 41-24-15 for 97 points in 1980-1981, then getting fired in 1981-1982 after 72 games with his team sitting with a record of 34-29-9.

He resurfaced with the Los Angeles Kings for the 1984-1985 season, engineering a turnaround for the franchise and taking them to the playoffs. That year his team won 34 games, lost 32, and tied 14, losing in the first round of the playoffs. In the 1985-1986 season, the Kings won just 23 games, losing 49, and tying eight to finish out of the playoffs. Quinn resigned 42 games into the 1986-1987 season, after his team had won 18, lost 20, and tied four.

He had signed a contract to coach the Vancouver Canucks while still under contract with L.A. The resulting dust storm led to his resignation. He was banned from coaching until 1991, but went to work as president and general manager of the Canucks starting in the 1987-1988 season.

Truly, the 1980s had been an up and down decade for Pat Quinn.

The years after
It would be the 1990s that Pat Quinn had his greatest success. He started coaching the Vancouver Canucks for the last part of the 1990-1991 season, taking them to the playoffs. The next year, the Canucks won the Smythe Division regular season title, and repeated the feat the following season in 1992-1993. Quinn also won the Jack Adams trophy again as the league’s best coach in 1992. In 1993-1994, the Canucks finished second in their division, but advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup final, before losing to the New York Rangers in seven games, in one of the most thrilling finals of the decade.

After that magical run, he stepped back from coaching and concentrated on his front office duties until he was fired in 1997.

He joined Toronto in 1998, coaching the Maple Leafs until 2006, then coached the Edmonton Oilers for the 2009-2010 season. He never repeated the success he had in either Philadelphia or Vancouver.

However, he was legendary on the international scene. He coached the Canadian Men’s Olympic team to gold in the 2002 games in Salt Lake City. He followed that up by coaching Team Canada to a championship in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. Not quite done yet, he took the helm of Canada’s World Junior team, and led them to gold in 2009. He had one other gold medal from coaching Canada’s Under-18 men’s team in 2008.

Parting thoughts
Pat Quinn really was just getting started as a coach in the 1980s, but what an incredible start it was. I recall that 1979-1980 Flyers team very well. Everyone kept an eye on them as their unbeaten streak grew and grew. Would they ever lose? They didn’t for three months, which is just incredible.

The Flyers may have come up short in the Stanley Cup final, but that season set the stage for an incredibly coaching career. It is telling he took two teams to the Stanley Cup final 14 years apart, and won the coach of the year two times, 12 years apart. That shows longevity, and truly an amazing ability to adapt to a changing game to keep experiencing success.

He also proved to be one of Canada’s greatest, if not their greatest, international coaches, with Olympic, World Junior, and World Cup gold medals to prove it. What makes these accomplishments more profound is the different types of players he had to mould into a team. With Olympic and World Cup teams, he had to take mature professionals and turn them into a cohesive group on the ice. Many were used to being the stars on their respective teams, and some had to accept taking on a lesser job as a role player. That same situation existed with the World Junior team, but in that case he was taking literally boys and trying to make them into a team. It is quite an extreme from young to mature hockey players, and Pat Quinn was able to coach them all.

It was a remarkable career, truly remarkable.

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