Wanna blog? Start your own hockey blog with My HockeyBuzz. Register for free today!

A Fond Farewell To My Friend Pat Quinn

November 25, 2014, 1:12 PM ET [6 Comments]
Scoop Cooper
Hockey Historian • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The first time I ever saw my friend Pat Quinn, who passed away in Vancouver on Sunday at age 71, he was a 25-year old rookie defenseman with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1968-69. At 6’3”, the big Irishman with jet black hair towered by almost half a foot over most of his teammates such as center Murray Oliver (who ironically also died on Sunday at age 77), Hall of Fame defenseman Tim Horton, then 19-year old blueliner Rick Ley (who would later serve for more than a decade as an assistant coach to Quinn in both Vancouver and Toronto), Leafs’ leading scorer Norm Ullman, future 1972 Canada-USSR Summit Series hero Paul Henderson, and Hall of Fame goalie Johnny Bower all of whom were 5'10" or less, about average for an NHL player in those days.

Pat Quinn with the Leafs in 1968-69

It was also during that 1968-69 season that the rookie Quinn made his name in the game almost immortal when he delivered one of the most devastating hits in NHL history as he crushed Bruins’ wünderkind Bobby Orr as he was carrying the puck out of his zone up the right boards at Boston Garden in the opening game of the playoffs between the Leafs and Bruins on April 2, 1969. The Leafs, by the way, were trailing 6-0 at the time but that did not deter Pat Quinn --- then or ever again -- from delivering a message when necessary for his team and to his opponents.

"The Hit"

Over the next eight years Pat Quinn would go on to play in 606 regular season and eleven playoff games in the NHL with Toronto, Vancouver, and Atlanta until a freak accident -- he broke his ankle while trying to show his daughters how to ride a skateboard in the driveway of his Atlanta home -- ended his playing career in 1977. I first met Pat the following Fall when the great Hall of Fame Flyer coach Fred Shero hired this journeyman blueliner with no coaching experience as an assistant coach to work with his club’s defenseman.

When I met him in training camp I found Pat to be a gracious, thoughtful, and kind hearted giant of a man with a great sense of humor, a booming laugh, but also a clear intensity of purpose which could not be missed. And while he joined the club without a single day of coaching experience at any level, a little more than a year-and-a-half later (and after a brief stint a head coach of the AHL Maine Mariners) he would be head coach of the Flyers, and in 1979-80 -- his first full season as an NHL bench boss -- would lead the Flyers to a still unmatched 35-game unbeaten streak (25-0-10), to within one game of a Stanley Cup title, and win his first of two Jack Adams Awards as NHL Coach of the Year.

Pat Quinn during the 35-game “Streak”

Ironically one of the teams Quinn’s Flyers beat in their run to the finals in 1980 were the New York Rangers then coached by the same Fred Shero who had hired Quinn three years earlier.

Over the next four years as coach of the Flyers Pat Quinn would see his club win 141 of the 262 regular season games played under his hand while losing just 73 and tying 48 for a lofty .630 winning percentage. Of the 18 men who have coached the team since 1967, only Fred Shero (.642) and Mike Keenan (.638) exceeded Quinn. In 39 playoff games Quinn led the Flyers to 22 wins against 17 losses for a .564 mark.

After taking time off to earn a law degree after his stint in Philadelphia, Pat continued his NHL coaching career with the Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Edmonton Oilers. When he coached his last regular season NHL game with Edmonton in 2010 -- his 1,400th -- Pat had collected 1,556 points on 684 wins against 528 losses, 154 ties, and 34 OT losses. Of the 354 all time head coaches in NHL history, Quinn ranks 5th in both games coached behind only Scotty Bowman (2,141), Al Arbour (1,607), Dick Irvin (1,449) and Ron Wilson (1,401), and total wins behind Bowman (1,244), Arbour (782), Joel Quenneville (718 and counting), and Irvin (692). Although reaching the Stanley Cup finals twice with Philadelphia in 1980 and Vancouver in 1994, he never won a Cup despite being 4th overall in total Cup games coached with 183 of which his clubs won 94. Only Bowman (353), Arbour (209), and Irvin (190) coached more post season tilts.

In international hockey, Quinn was very successful as well leading Canada to several gold medals including that at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics which ended Canada's 50-year drought. Quinn also won a gold medal at the 2009 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship. Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who coached Canada to gold in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver said of Quinn that: “Pat was great assistance to me, great man, unbelievable presence. And he was an intelligent, intelligent guy who among other things was great at handling the media in Toronto, maybe the last guy who was able to do that."

Pat Quinn at the 2002 Olympics

While not yet an honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame for which he served on the selection committee for many years before becoming the Chairman of the the Hall’s Board of Directors just last year, Pat Quinn’s life long credentials as a tireless builder of the game should certainly make him a prime candidate for that honor now.

Born in 1943 in the hardscrabble working class city of Hamilton, Ontario, at the peak of WWII, as a young teen he played for his hometown OHA Hamilton Tiger Cats from 1958 to 1960 collecting just two assists in 47 games. After another two years playing Junior B with the Hamilton Kitty B’s Pat headed west to Alberta to make it back to major junior hockey in 1962 with the CAHL Edmonton Oil Kings and made the best of it as the club won the Memorial Cup. Quinn collected a dozen points (2-10) -- and 49 penalty minutes -- in 19 post season games. Among his teammates on that club were current NY Rangers GM Glen Sather, long time NHL defenseman Bert Marshall, and one time Philadelphia Firebirds coach Greg Pilling. Six foot plus players were not the vogue in the pre expansion NHL, however, so Quinn spent the first five years of his professional playing career bouncing around the minor leagues with the EHL Knoxville Knights, CPHL Tulsa Oilers, Memphis Wings, and Houston Apollos, and WHL Seattle Totems before finally getting a shot with the Maple Leafs in 1968.

Pat Quinn with the 1963 Memorial Cup champion Edmonton Oil Kings

My personal memories of 35 years of friendship with Pat and his wife, Sandra, are many and fond. First was of his unfailing courtesy, loyalty, great good humor, thunderous laugh, and passion for the game that was the center of his life. He was a tough task master but one who inspired unquestioned loyalty in those who played with and for him. That two-way loyalty and respect extended far beyond the ice, however, and was shared by him and returned to everyone who had his friendship.

And of course there were his cigars, a hallmark of Pat Quinn if ever there was one. I have two distinct personal memories of those immense stogies. When Pat was coaching here in the early 1980s the local hockey scribes put on a little skit every year at the “Class Guy Luncheon” at which we presented a Class Guy Award to a Flyer player who was most helpful to the media that covered the team. In 1982 I got the assignment of playing Pat in the skit which lasted about 15 minutes. My “costume” consisted of a three piece suit and three huge lighted cigars that I had to keep puffing throughout the skit. I am not a cigar smoker and as the minutes passed I was becoming more and more “uncomfortable” with the smoke surrounding my head. Pat, of course, was laughing heartily at the joke but also made it a point to “comfort” me after my ordeal was over. “You did great Scoop,” he said, “and thanks so much for hanging in there under difficult circumstances!”

Pat and his ever present cigar

My other recollection of Pat’s cigars came in 1990 at the funeral for former Flyer coach Fred Shero, the man who gave Quinner his first shot at coaching in 1977. The funeral was an all day affair starting with a viewing followed by a funeral mass. Next came the drive to the cemetery and then a luncheon reception at a local restaurant that the Flyers had rented for the day at which the drinks at an open bar were “free and free flowing”. On the drive from the church to the cemetery I ended up in the long motorcade directly behind Pat’s car. Even though my windows were closed and so were those in Pat’s vehicle, I could not only see the smoke of his cigar as he drove along in front of me, I could smell the strong cigar smoke in my car!

After Pat finished law school and moved on to Los Angeles to coach the Kings from 1984 to 87 I saw him often as every year I spent both the Christmas holidays and about a month in the summer in LA visiting my sister who was a physician at USC Medical Center at the time. While I was there in August, 1985, Pat invited me down to his beautiful home in Laguna Beach for an afternoon of swimming in his pool and a glorious steak dinner he cooked on the poolside grill. The previous fall I co-wrote a book with Flyers broadcaster Gene Hart called “The Hockey Trivia Book” and gave Pat a copy of it. After I had returned home to Philadelphia I got a call from Pat wanting to know where he could buy a bunch of copies of the book to give to his friends for Christmas.

During his years coaching in Vancouver and Toronto I usually only saw Pat when the Canucks and Leafs visited Philadelphia to play the Flyers or in LA to play the Kings, and each of those meetings were always enjoyable to the max as we shared small talk about family, friends, hockey and always enjoyed a few laughs. The last time I saw Pat Quinn was on New Year’s Eve, 2012, when he, Terry Crisp, and Mike Nykoluk came to Philadelphia to coach the Flyers Alumni Team in a game against a team of Rangers alumni before a crowd of over 45,000 at Citizens Bank Park as part of the 2012 Winter Classic weekend. The game featured eight members of the Hockey Hall of Fame (four on each team) and was a truly magical experience.

Pat Quinn with Mike Nykoluk (l) and Terry Crisp (r) after the Flyers/Rangers Alumni Game

Nobody knew it at the time, but this would also be the second to last time Pat Quinn ever stood behind a bench of NHL players (he and Red Kelly coached the Maple Leafs' Winter Classic alumni team last year in Detroit). And as had happened so many hundreds of times before, when the final horn blew his team had won.

I will miss my friend Pat Quinn dearly. His accomplishments in his half-a-century in the pro game were great and far reaching. The thousands of lives (mine included) that he touched personally, and the gifts of great hockey experiences that he gave to literally millions who saw him and the teams he coached play at all levels will never be forgotten.

At just 71, Pat Quinn has left us and our game far, far too soon as he still had much to give to it. He was currently, for instance, a part owner of the WHL Vancouver Giants. As it had been for Pat with the Oil Kings in 1963, his Giants won the Memorial Cup title in 2007 under the coaching leadership of another long time friend of mine, Don Hay. Pat's passing is a tragedy which unfortunately can’t be undone now. So let us instead celebrate the life of John Bryan Patrick “Pat” Quinn and be thankful that he was with us and our game for as long as he was.

Recquiescat in pace, Quinner, my friend.

And Pat, thanks also for so many great memories.

John Bryan Patrick “Pat” Quinn * 1943-2014
Join the Discussion: » 6 Comments » Post New Comment
More from Scoop Cooper
» Legendary EHL Player and Coach Don "Fred" Perry Passes at 89
» Philadelphia and Pittsburgh's Eight Decade Hockey Connections and Rivalry