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Pat Quinn was an Atlanta Flames defenseman in 1976-1977. HANDOUT

With his cigar, florid Irish complexion and love of steaks and Scotch, Pat Quinn was at first glance as old-school as they come in an NHL that long resisted change.

But Mr. Quinn, who died Sunday night at the age of 71 at Vancouver General Hospital after a series of health problems, was a man who could not be judged by his surface.

The Hamilton native was a tough, slow-moving defenceman in the National Hockey League for nine years – his most famous accomplishment as a player was laying out Boston Bruins superstar Bobby Orr with a devastating body check in a 1969 playoff game between the Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs – who went on to become a head coach and general manager whose teams were known for their fast, creative offensive hockey, even in the NHL's obstruction era from the early 1990s through the mid-2000s.

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An imposing presence at 6-foot-3 and well over 200 pounds, Mr. Quinn never hesitated to speak his mind. But one of the first things his friends, and even former players who once quaked in his presence, say about him is that he was a friendly giant with a love for telling stories.

Mr. Quinn had little use for many reporters and was known for limiting their access to his players. He was also famous, however, for his detailed and insightful answers to reporters' questions. It was as if he could see exactly what the framework of the story was and – if he agreed with the premise – he would quickly give a concise response that illuminated the issue.

"When he walks in, you know hockey's in the room," Columbus Blue Jackets president John Davidson, who worked with Mr. Quinn on Hockey Hall of Fame matters, told reporters on Monday.

"He was a wonderful, wonderful man," said Scotty Bowman, who has the most coaching wins in NHL history at 1,244 and was long admired by Mr. Quinn, who placed fifth at 684. "Pat was well-educated but he didn't push it on you. He was always just hockey, all the time."

That, too was one of Mr. Quinn's contradictions. In an era when NHL players with a high-school diploma stood out, he earned an undergraduate degree at Ontario's York University in the late 1960s and early 1970s when he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and eventually earned a law degree from Widener University in Delaware (although he never practised).

At the time of his death, Mr. Quinn was the chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame and part-owner of the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. He leaves his wife Sandra, daughters Kalli and Val, and three grandchildren.

"I wouldn't be the person I am today if it weren't for Pat," Trevor Linden, the Vancouver Canucks president of hockey operations, who played for Mr. Quinn in the 1990s, said in a statement. "He was a great leader and always a teacher. He taught me how to be a professional on and off the ice."

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Mr. Quinn never won a Stanley Cup but in 15 full seasons as a head coach, his teams only missed the playoffs three times.

In the 1979-1980 season, he coached the Philadelphia Flyers, an ordinary team that had an extraordinary season including a 35-game undefeated streak, a record which is unlikely to be broken thanks to the demise of the tie in the NHL. He got them into the Stanley Cup final, where they lost in six games to the New York Islanders. Bob Nystrom scored the cup-winning goal in overtime for the Islanders on a play that Mr. 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 Mr. Quinn viewed with a jaundiced eye.

In 1994, Mr. Quinn took the Vancouver Canucks to the NHL final, losing in seven games to the New York Rangers.

He also coached the Maple Leafs, 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 1979-1980 season and in 1991-1992 with the Canucks.

Despite the lack of a Stanley Cup, Mr. Quinn had his triumphs. He guided the Canadian men's team to the 2002 Winter Olympics gold medal in Salt Lake City – the first Olympic hockey title for Canada in 50 years. He also won the 2004 World Cup of Hockey with Canada and a world junior gold for Canada in 2009.

At the 2002 Olympics, the Canadian women won gold a couple of days before the men and their star player, Hayley Wickenheiser, never forgot seeing Mr. Quinn turn up at the team bench as the women won. "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," Ms. Wickenheiser said Monday on Twitter.

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A few years before that historic double gold for Canada, Mr. Quinn was asked about the chances of a woman making it into the NHL. He said he wasn't sure women would ever play in the league but was unequivocal about coaching and managing: "Men have proven you don't have to play [in the NHL] to be good at your job. So why not a woman?"

Mr. Quinn, who was born in Hamilton on Jan. 29, 1943, will be remembered as a teacher and an innovator. During his years with the Canucks from 1987 to 1997 as president, general manager and head coach, at least six future NHL head coaches and GMs learned their trade under him: Brian Burke, George McPhee, Marc Crawford, Ron Wilson, Mike Murphy and Rick Ley.

"His greatest strength is his ability to listen," Mr. Wilson once said of his time with Mr. Quinn. "That's what makes him such a good coach. He gets a lot of input from the players and the coaches."

Mr. Quinn believed success only comes from working as a team, on the ice and in the front office.

"This is still a people business no matter which way you look at it," Mr. Quinn said. "It's not a one-man show. It never can be if it's to be successful. People are given the opportunity to do things and in doing so, they develop a skill level."

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