Pat Quinn's first notable role in the game of hockey was as a villain. He was the guy who caught Bobby Orr with his head down in a playoff game in 1969, laying him out cold. Most everyone who was a fan of the Boston superstar at the time hated the big Toronto defenceman.
No one did that to Bobby Orr.
For many, it would be the thing Pat Quinn would be remembered for most as a player. But as it turned out, the big Irishman, as he would affectionately be known, would end up leaving a far greater impression on the game as a coach and manager .
Just how great an impact was evident seconds after news broke Monday morning that he had died overnight at age 71. Even though many knew he was not well, and was likely facing his final days, the family's announcement still hit with a blunt force across the hockey world, and particularly in Vancouver and Toronto where his stints as a coach and manager made him a much-beloved figure.
Each city remains somewhat possessive of him. For people in Vancouver, Mr. Quinn arrived in 1987 to save a sorry, money-losing franchise from irrelevancy, leading the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994. He bled Canucks colours and always would; in private he'd admit as much. That is why seeing him behind the bench of the hated Maple Leafs was so hard for so many on the West Coast. But in Toronto, the Hamilton native gave Leafs fans a reason to hope too. Under his watch, the team went to the playoffs six out of seven seasons. He became the second-winningest coach in franchise history.
What you'll hear most about Pat Quinn in the coming days will revolve around a few different themes, depending on the association you had with the man.
For those players who suited up for him, most will talk about the teacher and the father figure he could be. Sure, he could peel paint off a dressing-room wall with his language. But the players will say that it wasn't incurring his wrath that motivated them. Rather, they didn't want to disappoint someone they cared about so much.
One of those was Gino Odjick, the legendary Canucks tough guy who viewed Mr. Quinn as a second father. He could cry when talking about his old coach and the many ways he was guided by him. His loyalty ran deep.
One time, Mr. Odjick heard Canucks coach Mike Keenan make a disparaging comment about Mr. Quinn. Mr. Odjick stood up and walked across the dressing room toward his coach: "Mike, you can call me stupid. You can call me a stupid Indian. But don't ever talk like that about people I respect." Mr. Keenan didn't say another word.
Not everyone loved Mr. Quinn, of course. If he didn't like players' work habits, he would make their lives difficult. He had his view of the world, and if you didn't subscribe to it you would often get short-shrift from him. He had a profound disdain for certain members of the media. I found myself in his crosshairs when I was a sports columnist in Vancouver in the 1990s.
It was around the time that Seattle billionaire John McCaw had taken over the team from Arthur Griffiths. Mr. McCaw knew nothing about hockey. Neither did the people he installed to oversee the team.
At the time, the Canucks had a forward named Marty Gelinas, a popular player having a great season and playing for relative peanuts. I argued that the team should do the right thing and renegotiate Mr. Gelinas's contract, giving him what he deserved and locking him up for a longer term. As GM, Pat Quinn was adamantly against the idea. But Mr. McCaw's camp was sympathetic to the argument the player was getting a raw deal and insisted his contract be recast – over the GM's objections.
I was invited into Mr. Quinn's office for a talk. I don't remember if I actually saw the paint peeling off the wall, but I do remember thinking as he tore a strip off me for precipitating Mr. Gelinas's new deal that perhaps sports writing wasn't going to be a long-term occupation.
Eventually, we would put the matter behind us and forge an amiable relationship. I would be one of the first people to talk to him after he was fired by the Canucks in November, 1997; a more devastated (and angry) man I would not find. I was actually delighted when he took over the Leafs and had success there. But not as happy as I was for him when he coached the Canadian men's team to Olympic gold in Salt Lake City in 2002. That may have been the happiest I had ever seen Pat Quinn in all the time I'd known him.
"How about that eh?" he said, cigar in his mouth, as he showed his gold medal to me after the game.
After coaching the world juniors to gold in 2009, Mr. Quinn would get one more shot at the NHL, with the Edmonton Oilers. (He had also coached in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.) The Alberta stint did not end well. After one season he was fired. He waited for another call to coach but it never came.
People talk about giants of the game – well, he truly was one, in every way. My favourite story about Pat Quinn involves that infamous hit on Bobby Orr. After the game, being a rookie, he was sent out to get some beer for the bus ride home. He waded through the crowd at a Boston watering hole when someone in the crowd identified him, shouting out: "It's Quinn, it's Quinn."
The kid who has just knocked out Boston's favourite son looked for a quick exit but there was none. The crowd moved in around him. He imagined a beer glass flying in his direction, or a fist. But then someone stuck out a hand instead. "Nice hit, Patty boy, nice hit." The big Irishman had stumbled into a Boston establishment that appreciated the roots of his game. "On the house," the bartender said when he tried to pay for the beer.
Pat Quinn left an impression everywhere he went. The game of hockey will never forget the indelible mark he made.