From his playing days through his coaching career, Pat Quinn, 64, has long been a fixture on the NHL scene.
The eloquent Quinn recently spoke with The Hockey News on his past, present and future in the game.
THN: You’re still interested in returning to the NHL as a coach, but a few media reports have focused on your age being an issue, without acknowledging a guy like Scotty Bowman, who didn’t begin his legendary run in Detroit until he was in his early 60s. Is it frustrating to come up against that small-minded kind of thinking?
PQ: Well, yeah. I don’t know why it becomes an issue. As you look in our game, we’ve got several 60-year-old people who are successful – Bryan Murray, Scotty, (John) Muckler, Glen Sather, heck, (Mike) Keenan’s nearly there. So that’s not an issue.
I’ve been a coach who I feel stays up on the curve, or even ahead of it sometimes, in my approach to coaching and planning, so I don’t feel a gap that way. And I’ve always said this – once the players know you care about them, it doesn’t matter how old you are. They know you prepare and do your best and that’s more important than being (a coach who is) 33 years old and trying to communicate with them.
THN: You’ve employed a coaching philosophy that gives your teams opportunities to win, but entertains fans at the same time. How can the league get more of the coaching fraternity to think like you and do away with the trap once and for all?
PQ: I don’t know how you get the coaches there, because you have to coach the talent you have. I think the trap system is a safe system for teams to play and coaches get to where they want to be safe. That’s the nature of this business.
I mean, sometimes I go to games now, I get disappointed myself, because (a team gets) up one goal and everybody falls back. We’ve mentally tried to close (the game) down, and though some of the new ways we call the rules are supposed to have opened it up, basic strategic plans are as defensive or more today as they were in the ’60s.
THN: You’ve been one of the more passionate critics of over-the-top violence in recent years. With the Steve Downie and Jesse Boulerice suspensions, do you think the NHL is finally starting to “get it”? And how else should the league be attempting to protect its most valuable assets?
PQ: Well, I think so and I hope so. We’ve decided amongst our group, by an overwhelming majority, let’s stop hitting the heads. And I think finally there’s enough consensus to say, ‘Make it tough’, and get the attention of the (offending) player.
And I do think the (NHL) Players’ Association has to be involved with this too, and not just stick their heads in the sand. They haven’t spoken up enough and been forceful enough, and said, ‘Wait a minute, these are our jobs, let’s reinforce the league in what they’re trying to do.’ Maybe better progress will be made that way.
THN: Other than Sidney Crosby, which current NHLer would you build a team around if you had to start from scratch?
PQ: Well, it’s not rocket science and there’s a goaltender out here in Vancouver who’s been phenomenal in the past year and that’s at a position where it’s critical to have strength. The teams that have won Stanley Cups have been really strong in goal.
Look at the New Jersey team. Yes, they’ve had good players, but without (Martin) Brodeur they wouldn’t have one Stanley Cup. That’s the type of position and person you start with and I think Roberto Luongo looks pretty darn good and he was as valuable to his team last year as (Crosby) was to Pittsburgh.
THN: Most underrated player you’ve ever coached?
PQ: I’ve had so many good players that don’t get a lot of credit somehow. Probably (Dave) Taylor in L.A.; you get hidden out there and they had some good players the league didn’t hear too much about, guys like Bernie Nicholls.
THN: What’s your all-time favorite book, movie and song?
PQ: Favorite book would be Exodus. I still love The Wizard of Oz. And the song would be The Bare Necessities, which I used to sing to my kids.
THN: What have you missed most about the NHL since you’ve been gone?
PQ: The daily contact of the actual job. I’ve been real lucky to have been able to work in the business, especially as a coach, where you have a feeling of purpose every day. You can get a report card on a regular basis and try and do something about it, create a plan the players can feel good about, execute, and have the success they should have.
I’ve always tried to create an environment where players can be the best they can be and succeed, and when you have that challenge every day and you’re serious about it, you feel involved and that your work is important. It’s a good feeling to have that sort of purpose, and as I said, I’ve been lucky.
THN: What’s the best lesson you’ve learned as a coach that you never could’ve learned while you were playing?
PQ: I think patience is one of the things, although as a player, I know I needed to study the games to be effective. I wasn’t the most skilled guy in skating and for me to play at a good level I could accept. But Fred Shero whetted my appetite for coaching and one of the first things he said to me was, “you might know a lot about the game, you probably do, but that only relates to how you’ve played the game; if you want to coach, you’re going to have to learn how you can help others play the game. You’re going to have to be a teacher, be patient, show interest, analyze the game.” And I spent hour upon hour trying to break the game down and understand how to use the assets I had to pass good messages on. Preparation is also a key for me, and attitude. I think attitude is so important, and I’ve always felt I had the right attitude in regards to my work.
THN: Who’s been the most challenging guy for you to coach against in your career behind the bench?
PQ: I don’t coach against coaches. I study what they try to do, I study their teams, I formulate game plans, but to suggest I’m coaching against Bowman or someone else wouldn’t be correct. I’m more worried about our guys and execution of a good game plan; yes, you have to know the other team and their tendencies, but for me, it’s never been about me vs. the other coach.
THN: What do you think when you look at the struggles of your most recent team in Toronto this season?
PQ: I think on a team basis, I’m not right up on top of it, but I do like and have worked with a number of those young men there, and I really want to see them do well. There are struggles, and we know this game has struggle to it; so you hope when the struggle comes, they find ways to succeed after that. I’m cheering for them, and I’d like to see some of those young guys do real well.
THN: How tough is it to work in the Toronto market?
PQ: It’s a place where you’re probably more under the glass than any place else in hockey, including Montreal and New York. Toronto is the hockey center. They tape the practices now, nothing escapes anybody there and so that’s some of the distraction you hope you can help players deal with, and deal with yourself. But all in all, I was real lucky. I had good teams there, the fans were just unbelievable and very supportive, and my time there, I’ll cherish always. It was a terrific time for me.
THN: You’re one of the most eloquent figures in the sport. If another coaching job doesn’t come your way soon, would you ever consider a role in the media?
PQ: That’s possible. I was asked to do one game (for the CBC) last year, and I did, and I kind of enjoyed working with Ron (MacLean) and Don (Cherry) for a little bit in the playoffs, but no one’s asked me on a regular basis, and I haven’t pursued anything. But sure, to comment on this game and how it’s played might be some fun. I haven’t moved there yet, but who knows?
THN: What’s the dumbest question a Toronto reporter has asked you?
PQ: (Laughing) That one right there. I’ve never written (dumb questions) down afterwards, and I always understood – although some of the (reporters) there I didn’t like too much, didn’t think too much of their ethical codes. But for the most part, I appreciate the job the guys try to do and there’s a lot of good people in that business. I always tried to give back. I didn’t try to duck questions, but some things you just can’t answer because you’d be putting someone at risk. Yeah, there’s dumb questions, but I’ve worked in different markets and when you come into Canada the media is much more knowledgeable about the game.
I mean, I worked in Los Angeles and tried to help young guys that, when they came to the editor’s desk and were told to cover a hockey game instead, you try to help them. They’re just people trying to do a job. But when you come to Canada, you’re going to get challenged, and that’s OK, too.
THN: Best and worst trades you’ve made as a GM?
PQ: I made some real good trades that turned that team around in Vancouver and took it from a perennial bad team to a good one; the ones where we got (Geoff) Courtnall and (Jeff) Brown, big (Sergio) Momesso, it was ’91 and that really changed our team around quite well. Probably the trade that brought Markus Naslund out to Vancouver was a good one, too.
Worst one? I’ve certainly made trades that didn’t help the team. I traded Barry Pederson and Tony Tanti and that didn’t make a difference for our team. I’m sure there are others in there, but I’m sure there were more that were good than not so good.
THN: If you can, give me your life philosophy in one sentence.
PQ: I think you have moving philosophies in life, but in my coaching life, it was really to try being the best I could be at helping others be the best they can be. I just try to push myself to learn more, be better, to be better prepared and hope I can pass it on so someone else can succeed.
THN: Sounds a bit like a father’s role, too.
PQ: There’s no question. You have a responsibility and I feel that responsibility. You want to see other people having joy and success and happiness, especially people you like. And I’ve always believed that old adage that players don’t care how much you know – and I’d work hard to know a lot for them – until they know how much you care. And I always wanted my guys to know I cared about them.