Dr Sport: Pat Quinn was a private person on a public stage


November 1 1991. Canucks player Pavel Bure and Pat Quinn.

November 1 1991. Canucks player Pavel Bure and Pat Quinn.

Photograph by: Ken Oakes, PNG

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VANCOUVER - It was a rainy Monday this past summer when Pat Quinn and I decided a one-on-one lunch was long overdue. He took great delight in suggesting we get together at his favourite Italian restaurant in North Vancouver. The plan was to meet in the parking lot at high noon.

Neither one of us, of course, checked to make sure the restaurant was open. It wasn’t.

Like a scene straight out of the movie Grumpy Old Men, a 10-minute conversation through adjacent car windows finally resulted in agreeing on a back-up location.

The planned one-hour lunch meeting lasted three-and-a-half hours. No notes. No tape recorder. And the words “off the record” didn’t have to be mentioned.

Fighting health issues at the time, Pat only mentioned it when he ordered a virgin Bloody Mary and said: “Doctor’s orders. I’ve got be on my best behaviour.”

Looking back, it was eerie. It was as though he wanted to share some personal stories I had never heard him address before. He talked about his strict upbringing in Hamilton where his father was a tough steelworker. He reminisced about the difficult financial times he and his high school sweetheart Sandra went through in married life while he made a mere pittance playing in minor-league outposts such as Knoxville, Tulsa and Memphis.

“We were just kids,” Pat said.

Leaving the restaurant, I remember reaching out to hold his arm as he stumbled just a wee bit negotiating a short three steps to the main floor level. He pulled away, not saying a word. But the message was clear: Pat Quinn was a proud Irishman who always stood his ground.

That day he said his pride and stubbornness cost him jobs along his legendary way through the hockey wars. He reflected on some of the disagreements he had with ownership in Vancouver (the John McCaw group), Toronto and Edmonton, each time resulting in his dismissal.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said.

I had one question that he never really did answere that day. It had to do with the morning I had arranged for two little boys of a minor hockey coach in the Hastings neighbourhood to meet their idol, Pavel Bure. Pat was coaching at the time and said Bure would stop by after practice at the Pacific Coliseum to say hello.

Bure came off the ice and brushed by the kids, heading straight for the dressing room. Not far behind was the coach, who on skates appeared to be seven feet tall.

He looked down at the teary-eyed boys and said: “What’s wrong?” When told about Pavel’s behaviour, Quinn said: “Don’t anybody move.”

Within seconds, Bure appeared from the dressing room with two autographed sticks and a charming smile on his normally pouting face. I asked Quinn what he’d said to his star player. His answer: “You don’t want to know!”

That was typical Pat Quinn, a private person on a public stage who cared about people from all walks of life.

Sun columnist Greg Douglas (Dr. Sport) knew Pat Quinn since he joined the Vancouver Canucks in the 1970 NHL Expansion Draft. Douglas was the team’s original PR director.

November 1 1991. Canucks player Pavel Bure and Pat Quinn.

November 1 1991. Canucks player Pavel Bure and Pat Quinn.

Photograph by: Ken Oakes, PNG

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