Iain MacIntyre: Canucks icon Pat Quinn was hockey royalty in Vancouver (with video)


NHL expansion era blue-liner, long-time executive saved franchise, set standards that exist to this day

Vancouver Canucks Pavel Bure (left) and Alex Mogilny flank Pat Quinn in 1995, when Mogilny joined the NHL team in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres.

Vancouver Canucks Pavel Bure (left) and Alex Mogilny flank Pat Quinn in 1995, when Mogilny joined the NHL team in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres.

Photograph by: Steve Bosch, VANCOUVER SUN

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VANCOUVER — It was the morning after a practice in which Pat Quinn's stern, profane lecture to Canuck players was caught on tape by a local broadcaster, who had enterprisingly reached his microphone over the glass at the Agrodome to capture it.

The media has bred unchecked and multiplied unsustainably over the last 20 years but back then, in the early 1990s, Quinn's next media scrum was attended by about two newspaper writers and the triumphant TV reporter, whose microphone, now lowered, was being held rather close to Quinn as the coach leaned on his hockey stick the way Ken Dryden did when he played goal.

Like a six-foot-three Irish cobra — plus skates — Quinn struck in a flash and flicked his hockey stick out from under his chin, delivering a clean, crisp blow to the offending microphone, which pinged metallically across the concrete floor outside the Canucks' dressing room while the stunned TV reporter continued to hold his disarmed hand aloft.

I admit I was both amused and terrified. I'd seen the video of what Quinn did to Bobby Orr. And if he had just about killed the greatest hockey player before Wayne Gretzky came along, what the heck would he do to one of us? Especially with so few witnesses around.

But that was the only time I can recall Quinn losing his temper, or at least his restraint, with the media.


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For all his intensity and intimidating stature, that sense so often of impending hostility, Quinn always answered the questions, sometimes with a slow burn but usually with the gravity and thoughtfulness of a sage.

He was one of those rare people who truly did seem larger than life, which makes it all the more difficult to accept that his tumultuous and private battle with illness ended Sunday night with his death at age 71.

Pat Quinn was a giant in Vancouver, literally and figuratively, hockey royalty we are not likely to see again in a Canuck coach and general manager.

"When he came here in 1987, hockey was not on the radar for most people," Canuck president Trevor Linden said Monday. "He made this a hockey town again."

Quinn not only saved the franchise after he arrived from the Los Angeles Kings in 1987, transforming it and giving it credibility it had never possessed, but set standards that exist to this day.

Absentee owner John McCaw fired him in 1997 — the billionaire clearly was not thinking straight because he tried almost immediately to hire him back as coach — but Quinn's influence on the Canucks continues.

Linden, the captain of the Canucks' 1994 Stanley Cup final team, said many of his beliefs about hockey and how to build a team can be traced to Quinn.

Brian Burke and Dave Nonis, who became Canuck general managers before moving on to other teams, got their first jobs in hockey operations under Quinn. Canuck chief operating officer Victor de Bonis, who runs the business while Linden oversees hockey-ops, was also hired under Quinn's watch.

"I idolized Pat," de Bonis said. "His principles continue to come through here in how we work as a company. Pat had unbelievable integrity and a very strong understanding of teams and how to build a culture that is supportive and positive. His legacy will be part of this organization for many, many years."

De Bonis, whose uncle was once the Chief Financial Officer of the Vatican, said meeting Quinn in 1994 was like meeting the Pope.

"My wife and I visited the Vatican on our honeymoon and my uncle said we could have met Pope John Paul II except he was on holiday," de Bonis explained. "When he said that, I was almost overwhelmed by the idea of it. My first day on the job with the Canucks, when I was told I was going to go meet Pat Quinn, I had that same feeling. He was larger than life, Pat. You don't meet too many people who can impact you like he did. You're lucky if you meet anybody like that."

Linden said: "When he walked into the room, everything stopped. Guys were taping their sticks or talking, everything stopped. He could deliver a message like none other. His presence in the locker room was incredible. He respected his players but in turn, the players had a tremendous amount of respect for him, admired him. But definitely there was a little bit of fear, for sure."

Near the end of his nine seasons as a fierce but limited defenceman in the NHL, Quinn negotiated his own contract with Atlanta Flames GM Cliff Fletcher, who said you couldn't change Quinn's mind "with a stick of dynamite."

"Pat and I went into a country and western bar at 5:30 in the afternoon and we had a deal by one o'clock in the morning," Fletcher recalled Monday. "And we weren't sipping tea."

Quinn was rarely seen away from the rink without his cowboy boots and a cigar.

Raised in Hamilton, Quinn nearly didn't become a hockey player at all. An altar boy who served daily at St. Eugene's Parish, Quinn wanted to become a priest. A summer spent in contemplation at seminary school changed his mind, but his Irish-Catholicism served him well later on.

After his hellacious bodycheck on Orr during the 1969 playoffs — "I hit him with everything," Quinn told The Vancouver Sun decades later, "shoulder, hip, everything" — teammates sent him after the game in Boston to buy beer for the bus ride. Quinn, after all, was a rookie.

The way Quinn told the story, he walked into the first bar he saw. A patron yelled out Quinn's name and he froze, suddenly realizing how foolish it was to be out in Boston after injuring Orr. In the tense silence, he was ready for a bottle or fist to come at him. Instead, someone slapped him on the back, then another person and Quinn was cheered and the beer was on the house. Irish Catholics.

Quinn planned to stay out of hockey after he retired as a player in 1977. He tried to buy a chain of convenience store-gas stations in the Atlanta area but couldn't agree with the seller on a price.

Then Quinn wanted to partner a friend in a car dealership in Montana. But when the Philadelphia Flyers called to offer him an assistant coaching job, Quinn said he was out-voted by his family.

Quinn's wife Sandra, and their daughters Valerie and Kalli, are joined in grief by thousands in the hockey community impacted by Pat.

Even when Quinn went on to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers, he and Sandra kept their home in West Vancouver.

Linden said he visited Quinn on Friday, saw how illness had ravaged him and was saddened but not surprised by news of Quinn's death.

Finally honoured by the team last April, Quinn said no place or organization touched him the way Vancouver and the Canucks had.

"I'm not immune to pain, dejection, compassion," Quinn told me 21 years ago for a story about his life in hockey, which grew much richer in the years that followed. "But I think I've learned to place it properly. I have a passion, a love, for this business. I don't think that ever leaves you.

"If there is such a thing as destiny … I just feel I get put back into this business. Even when I didn't search it out, the game came back to me. For that I am grateful."

So are the rest of us.



Vancouver Canucks Pavel Bure (left) and Alex Mogilny flank Pat Quinn in 1995, when Mogilny joined the NHL team in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres.

Vancouver Canucks Pavel Bure (left) and Alex Mogilny flank Pat Quinn in 1995, when Mogilny joined the NHL team in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres.

Photograph by: Steve Bosch, VANCOUVER SUN

Vancouver Canucks Pavel Bure (left) and Alex Mogilny flank Pat Quinn in 1995, when Mogilny joined the NHL team in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres.
Blue-liner Pat Quinn (left) of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins superstar Bobby Orr hammer each other during an on-ice fight in a National Hockey League game at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, circa 1969. In a separate incident in the spring of '69 during a playoff game at the Boston Gardens, Quinn's body check of Orr prompted a near riot.
Vancouver Canucks president and general manager Pat Quinn (left) admires team’s new jersey with NHL franchise’s first GM, Bud Poile, in September 1989.
March 15, 1989.  PAT QUINN and a ‘friend’ watch over Canucks in March 1989.
1987 file photo of Pat Quinn former hockey player, coach, and manager.
Pat Quinn, Canucks GM, talks trades after 1997 trade deadline.
Vancouver Canuck 1st yr. Coach Tom Renney (left) and G.M Pat Quinn react to tough questioning by local media over the team's dissmal season and missing the playoffs for the first time since 1990.
Canucks GM Pat Quinn and new Vancouver Canuck Mark Messier at press conference.
The 1994 Vancouver Canucks, who went to the NHL's Stanley Cup final, are joined by their coach Pat Quinn on the red carpet prior to the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic at BC Place Stadium Sunday March 2, 2014 in Vancouver. The Vancouver Canucks lost to the Ottawa Senators, 4-2.
Mr Hockey Gordie Howe (left) and Pat Quinn give Marcel Dionne (right) a hard time as he signs an autograph before they go out onto the ice at the Coliseum for Howe's 80th birthday party.
November 1 1991. Canucks player Pavel Bure and Pat Quinn.
Rick Ley was 29-32-15 when was fired 76 games into 1996-96 season and replaced by Pat Quinn.
Pat Quinn hockey player, coach and manger (left) is invested as Officer to the Order of Canada by Governor General David Johnston at Rideau Hall, the official residence of the Governor General, in Ottawa Friday November 23, 2012.
Pat Quinn watches the scrimmage at Oilers Rookie camp at Rexall Place. Quinn coaches the Oilers during the 2009-10 season.
Pat Quinn hams it up for the cameras at the press conference announcing his appointment as coach of the 2002 Team Canada squad.
A comic about Pat Quinn's hiring with the Edmonton Oilers.
Pat Quinn, Head Coach for Canada, coaches his team practice in preparation for the Gold medal match against Sweden.
Pat Quinn, circa 1970: ‘Smiling graciously at one another at Exhibition Park are two of Vancouver’s sports, Pat Quinn of the Vancouver Canucks and Grangers Pride, one of the harness racing’s invitational pacers. Quinn had just finished jogging Grangers Pride, and he claimed later he’s interested in buying a standardbred he can train and race at Vancouver’s winter meet.’
Pat Quinn listens as Trevor Linden tells a story during a Vancouver Giants game in 2012. The Canucks' new president of hockey will be on hand as the team inducts Quinn into the Ring of Honour in Sunday's otherwise disappointing season finale.
Captain Thomas Hickey sits with head coach Pat Quinn of Canada's National Junior Hockey Team for the official team photo.
In this file photo, head coach Pat Quinn of the Edmonton Oilers looks on from the bench as he leads the Oilers against the Colorado Avalanche during NHL action at the Pepsi Center.
Edmonton Oilers head coach Pat Quinn waits for the hockey players to hit the ice at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta for training camp on Sunday September 13 2009.
Pat Quinn circa 1973 in the jersey of the Atlanta Flames, which he joined from the Vancouver Canucks.
Defenceman Pat Quinn in the 1970-71 NHL season with the expansion Vancouver Canucks.
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