Mighty Pat Quinn on the minds of Hockey Hall of Famers

Hockey is packed with Pat Quinn stories.

Almost everybody involved with the game has a Mighty Quinn tale, and why not? The big man spent more than 50 years in hockey as a player, coach and executive, from his junior days in the late 1950s with his hometown Hamilton Tiger Cubs to his final season behind a bench with the 2009-10 Edmonton Oilers.

It should be no surprise then that the 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame class of Eric Lindros, Sergei Makarov and Rogie Vachon has connections to the late Quinn, who will be inducted as a builder on Monday night in Toronto.

Lindros was part of the 2002 Canadian Olympic men’s team Quinn steered to gold in Salt Lake City. He also played for Quinn in his final season as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs 11 years ago.

“Pat had a really good ability to bring people together and communicate,” Lindros says. “He had a system he wanted us to play [in Salt Lake City] and he explained that system quickly.

“He believed in that system and it obviously worked.”

Eric Lindros reflects on his Hockey Hall of Fame induction5:08

Makarov never played for Quinn, but in the Russian’s four seasons with the Calgary Flames and two more with the San Jose Sharks, he lined up against the Vancouver Canucks when Quinn was the general manager and head coach of that team.

Makarov recalls several sit-down chats he had with Quinn, who had a fascination with the Russian game and Russian-trained players. 

‘Big fist on the table’

Vachon and Quinn were teammates on the 1966-67 Houston Apollos, a farm team of the Montreal Canadiens. Later, Vachon was a rookie general manager when he hired Quinn to coach the Los Angeles Kings in 1984.

“Pat was a good friend,” Vachon says. “He had just become a lawyer. I gave him a call and convinced him to come. I needed a good coach, no-nonsense, who said ‘you have to do it my way,’ who put that big fist on the table.”

The Kings enjoyed a 23-point turnaround that first season under Quinn. But midway through his third season in Los Angeles, Quinn signed a secret deal to become president and general manager of the Canucks after the season. The league found out and suspended him for the rest of the year.

“The problem was I didn’t personally negotiate his contract,” Vachon recalls. “[Kings owner] Jerry Buss had a lawyer negotiate it and he had a clause that gave him an out if offered a bigger job. The timing was bad.”

Quinn never won the Stanley Cup as a coach. He did, however, make trips to the finals with the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers and 1993-94 Vancouver Canucks. He advanced the Maple Leafs to a pair of conference finals and guided the Cup-finalist Flyers to a record 35-game (25-0-10) unbeaten streak.

There was the Olympic gold, a 2004 World Cup of Hockey title with Canada, more gold with the 2008 Canadian under-18 team and a world junior championship with John Tavares, Jordan Eberle and P.K. Subban in Ottawa in 2009.

Winning from losing

Quinn is deserving of this Hockey Hall of Fame honour, and some of us wish he had written a book to pass on his hockey philosophy and knowledge.

The closest thing we have is Mike Johnston and Ryan Walter’s 2004 book, Simply the Best: Insights and Strategies from Great Hockey. The authors interviewed many great coaches, including Claire Drake, Scotty Bowman, Roger Neilson and Quinn.

In Quinn’s chapter, part of his conversation deals with how powerful the fear of losing can be.

Quinn remembered reading reports from Bob Clarke and Marc Crawford about the 1998 Canadian Olympic team being affected by the fear of failure and the criticism the players would face back home if they did not win gold (they returned without a medal). Quinn’s task was to overcome this same feeling four years later.

“I was bothered the whole summer about how I would approach this because I knew [the fear] was going to be there,” Quinn said.

“That fear is a powerful thing. All the good teams had to learn it — Detroit, the Islanders, the great Oiler teams — they all had to learn how to perform and win when the pressure was on. It’s a learning process. Nobody can just walk in and say, ‘here’s how you do it, guys.’ You’ve got to lose, you’ve got to battle, you’ve got to feel the pain, and then you’ve got to rise up and come back again.”

Quinn felt his pain at the rink, but rose up, too. His daughter Kalli remarked this weekend that her dad’s career highlight was the Olympic win in Salt Lake City.

But Quinn refused to take credit. He believed the thrill of victory would never have happened had the same group not suffered the agony of defeat four years earlier.

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