SPORTS

Players and coaches mourn death of intimidating, personable Pat Quinn

11/24/2014 12:27 EST | Updated 01/24/2015 05:59 EST
VANCOUVER - Trailing the Winnipeg Jets after a lacklustre 40 minutes, Pat Quinn wanted a better third period from his Vancouver Canucks.

And he knew just how to get it.

"(Quinn) always started off very soft-spoken and then the blood started to boil," recalled former Canucks goalie Kirk McLean. "At the old Winnipeg Arena they used to put the Gatorade containers in the middle of the room and he gave one a forearm shiver and it went right across the table with ice flying everywhere.

"Everybody just kind of stared at him and he walked out the door. Needless to say we go out and win the hockey game."

A former NHL player, coach and executive, Quinn died on Sunday night at the age of 71 after a lengthy illness.

The hockey world took time on Monday to remember one of its biggest personalities and reflect on the impression he left on the game.

"He just had such a presence and he was an intimidating person. When he walked into the room everything stopped," said Trevor Linden, who was captain of the Canucks under Quinn and is now the club's president of hockey operations. "Guys were taping their sticks or tying their skates or talking — everything stopped. He could deliver a message like none other and 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 and admired him, but definitely there was a little bit of fear."

Linden added that while Quinn could be blunt, he was always fair.

"He was a great man because he cared and he loved his players," said Linden. "The outer exterior (was) gruff and tough, but he loved his players and I think people saw that."

While Quinn coached five teams in his 20-year coaching career, he was best remembered in Vancouver for leading the Canucks to within a game of the 1994 Stanley Cup, a magical run that remains the franchise's highlight.

"(Quinn) was the type of guy that had a presence," said McLean. "He was obviously a huge part of our success in 1994. To have him on that bench and leading the way was very special.

"Me personally, I wouldn't be in this situation if it wasn't for Pat."

Linden and McLean both knew that Quinn — who served as president, general manager and head coach during his time with the Canucks — wasn't doing well the last few months and visited him at a Vancouver hospital on Friday.

"Given Pat and how proud he was, he didn't want anyone to see him in the condition he was in," said Linden. "It was a real great visit. He didn't look well, but he still had that stubborn Irishness about him.

"He still had that Pat Quinn ire. We had a nice visit and I was really thankful to have that opportunity."

Added McLean: "He wasn't the man that we knew, but he still had that fire in his eyes. He still had that charisma and intimidating stare. That was just him — his way of getting it through to you."

Former Canucks captain Stan Smyl, who played for Quinn and also served as his assistant coach, said he put Vancouver on the NHL map.

"He got the best out of all his players no matter what they brought," said Smyl. "I was here in the 1980s playing and Pat Quinn is the gentleman that changed this organization around. We never got the respect from back east we should have until Pat came in."

Quinn, who was fired by the Canucks in 1997 and went on to be both coach and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was added to the Ring of Honour at Rogers Arena last season, a fitting tribute to a man that helped shape the franchise.

"When Pat left Vancouver it was under difficult circumstances and that generally happens," said Linden. "It was hard for him to leave so I think it was a real coming home for him. I know how special that night was for him.

"I know how hard it was for him to get himself prepared for that because he wasn't well. It was just so fitting that he was honoured that way. It meant a lot to him and his family. It was the right thing to do."

While Quinn was perhaps best remembered for his time with Vancouver and Toronto, he also led the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup final as a coach in 1980 and was a hard-nosed defenceman during his playing days.

"Pat Quinn was thoughtful, passionate and committed to success," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "Pat's contributions to hockey, at every level, reflected the skills he possessed and the great respect with which he treated the sport."

For all the success Quinn had in professional hockey, his crowning achievement arguably came at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics when he led Canada to its first gold medal in 50 years.

While in Salt Lake City, Quinn was also a staunch supporter of the country's women's team.

Hayley Wickenheiser said she remembers Quinn's reaction on the bench when Canadian women won gold.

"Pat Quinn was a giant of a man in every way. A true leader and a wonderful person," Wickenheiser posted on Twitter. "One of my fav. Pat Quinn moments was him in tears on our bench after winning gold in Salt Lake 02. He said women inspired the men."

NHL legend Wayne Gretzky was the executive director of the men's team at the Games and said in an interview with TSN on Monday that he was confident in Quinn's ability to bring together a coaching staff and team from around the NHL at a short tournament.

"Pat Quinn was a guy who could make the co-coaches feel comfortable, and he could bring together 23 players to say 'OK, we're going to check our egos at the door just like our head coach did and we're going to become one, and we're going to build towards winning the gold medal,'" said Gretzky.

Canadian Olympic Committee president Marcel Aubut said Quinn made a lasting impression with Canada's Olympic program.

"He was a larger than life coaching giant in hockey and an outstanding leader in Canada's Olympic movement," said Aubut. "His contributions as a player, coach and builder will never be forgotten and through his work he leaves behind a legacy that has inspired future generations of hockey players."

Quinn's longest stint as an NHL coach was in Toronto, where he led the team to six straight playoff appearances from 1998-99 to 2003-04.

"This is a tremendous loss for the hockey community," Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement. "Pat will be revered not only for his great accomplishments in sport but also for his courage and strength in face of his illness, and his dedication to family."

Outside the NHL, Quinn was also a member of the induction committee at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Pat Quinn," said Hall of Fame vice-chairman Jim Gregory. "Pat is one of hockey's most respected individuals whose lifetime involvement as a player, coach and executive has made an indelible mark on the game."

Quinn also coached the Los Angeles Kings, where star forward Luc Robitaille remembered him as "a great man for the game of hockey and a person who commanded a lot of respect."

"He was my first NHL coach and he made quite an impression on me as I was breaking into the league and learning the game," Robitaille said in a statement. "He also is the person who called me when I got the news I was being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Needless to say that will always be a special moment I will cherish, and receiving that news was an even greater honour coming from Pat."

Quinn made his presence felt in the junior hockey community. He was behind the bench when Canada won its last world junior gold medal in 2009, and he was a part owner of the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants.

"Words cannot express the pain we all feel today for the Quinn family," Giants majority owner Ron Toigo said in a statement. "Pat was an inspiration to all of us. He always said that respect was something that should be earned, not given, and the respect that he garnered throughout the hockey world speaks for itself. He will be sorely missed."

Linden said that when he was contemplating taking the job with the Canucks in the spring, he consulted with his former coach — just as he had when he was a player.

"He loved to teach and he made sense of the game. He made it make sense," said Linden. "He was a very proud individual and a tremendous leader. For me, he was a real mentor.

"A lot of the lessons he taught me I still think about today."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version reported that Quinn was a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was the chairman of the Hall.

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