Pat Quinn was a man known for his direct manner – whether it was flattening Bobby Orr on the ice with one of the most famous body checks in NHL history or dealing with players, reporters and fellow executives in a long career as a coach, general manager and president.
He also fought long and hard against some health challenges in recent years and he passed away Sunday night at Vancouver General Hospital. At the time of his death Quinn, 71, was chairman of The Hockey Hall of Fame and part owner of the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.
"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Pat Quinn," Jim Gregory, vice-chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame, said in a statement. "Pat is one of hockey's most respected individuals whose lifetime involvement as a player, coach and executive has made an indelible mark on the game, and our thoughts and prayers are with Sandra and all of Pat's family and friends at this extremely difficult time."
Quinn's wife Sandra and the rest of his family asked the media for privacy and did not make a statement. He is also survived by his daughters Kalli and Val and three grandchildren.
"When he walks in, you know hockey's in the room," Columbus Blue Jackets president John Davidson, who worked with Quinn on Hockey Hall of Fame matters, told reporters on Monday.
Davidson's remark signalled the respect Quinn was accorded from the hockey world. Even those who were on the receiving end of his Irish temper still held him in high regard.
Steve Sullivan had a fine career as a small but skilled NHL forward but he was given away by the Toronto Maple Leafs on waivers in October, 1999 to the Chicago Blackhawks because Quinn, the Leafs' head coach and GM at the time, thought he did not pay enough attention to defensive hockey. But Sullivan echoed the thoughts of many others when he said on Twitter that "hockey has lost a good man."
Much is made these days of the pressure on the Maple Leafs from the fans and media and the role it plays in the team's lack of success. But this never seemed to both Quinn, who took the Leafs to two Eastern Conference finals during his years as coach from 1998 through 2006. A little better luck with injuries probably would have seen Quinn push the Leafs into the Stanley Cup final.
"He was great at handling the media in Toronto. Maybe the last guy that was able to do that," Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock told reporters. "He was a great man. Unbelievable presence. Intelligent, intelligent guy."
Quinn never won a Stanley Cup but did coach a team to Olympic gold, taking the Canadian men's team to the 2002 championship in Salt Lake City, the first Olympic hockey title for Canada in 50 years. The Canadian women won gold a couple of days earlier and their star player Hayley Wickenheiser never forgot seeing Quinn turn up at the team bench as they won. Wickenheiser said Monday on Twitter that "One of my [favourite] Pat Quinn moments was him in tears on our bench after winning gold in Salt Lake 02. He said women inspired the men."
Giants majority owner Ron Toigo said, "Pat was an inspiration to all of us. He always said that respect was something that should be earned, not given, and the respect that he garnered throughout the hockey world speaks for itself. He will be sorely missed."
The Giants asked those wishing to send messages of condolence to either email firstname.lastname@example.org or send mail to the Giants' offices at 100 North Renfrew Street, Vancouver, BC, V5K 3N7.
Quinn, a native of Hamilton, Ont., was a defenceman known for hits rather than points. He played for nine years in the NHL for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Atlanta Flames before taking up a coaching and managing career.
His most famous exploit as a player was laying out Orr, the NHL's reigning superstar, came on April 2, 1969 when Quinn and the Maple Leafs were being humiliated by Orr and the Bruins in a playoff game that ended in a 10-0 Boston win. But Orr was knocked out of the game late in the second period when he uncharacteristically skated out of his own end with his head down and was flattened at the blue line by the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Quinn. While Quinn was given a major penalty for elbowing, and the hit touched off a brawl that saw Quinn require a police escort from the Boston Garden penalty box to the dressing room, most observers thought it was a clean body check.
As a coach and GM, Quinn had the players to win the Stanley Cup but never the luck. He did come close a couple of times, especially in 1994 when he took the Vancouver Canucks to the NHL final, losing in seven games to the New York Rangers. In 1980, Quinn took the Philadelphia Flyers to the Cup final where they lost in six games to the New York Islanders. Bob Nystrom scored the Cup-winning goal for the Islanders on a play that Quinn and many others thought was clearly offside. From that point on, the NHL's on-ice officials joined reporters and certain lazy players as those Quinn viewed with a jaundiced eye.
Quinn also coached the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers and was general manager of the Canucks and Leafs. He was selected the NHL's coach of the year with the Flyers in the 1979-80 season and in 1991-92 with the Canucks. The Flyers set an NHL record in 1979-80 by going undefeated for 35 games, a record that will never be broken given the demise of tie games in the league.