11/24/2014 11:07 EST | Updated 11/25/2014 05:59 EST

Pat Quinn Dead: Veteran Coach Passes Away At 71

A fixture of the hockey universe has died.

Pat Quinn, a former player and legendary coach, succumbed Sunday at Vancouver General Hospital to a lengthy illness.

He was 71.

As a player, Quinn skated in more than 600 NHL games, but it was after hanging up his skates in 1967 -- due to an ankle injury -- that he made his most vital contributions to the game.

He coached some 1,400 matches, earning the Jack Adams trophy for Coach of the Year with two different teams -- a feat only repeated by three other men.

Perhaps most memorably, Quinn guided Canada to Gold at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake -- signalling an end to the nation's 50-year Gold Medal drought.

"'The Big Irishman"' is a guy that loves the game so much that when he walks in, you know hockey's in the room," broadcaster and NHL executive John Davidson told The Canadian Press.

Even after coaching, Quinn ontinued to have a hand in shaping the careers of many of hockey's young stars. Back in 1963, he won junior hockey's prized Memorial Cup. Decades later, in 2007, Quinn won it again -- as 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 told reporters. “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.”

The team's general manager, Scott Bonner added his condolences, telling CBC's The Early Edition, "We lost a key cog here."

Many Canadian fans will recall Quinn at the helm of the Vancouver Canucks, and later coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs, a seven-season stretch that saw the club's fleeting return to respectability in the standings.

“Whether he was playing for a team, coaching a team or building one, Pat Quinn was thoughtful, passionate and committed to success," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told Pat’s contributions to hockey, at every level, reflected the skills he possessed and the great respect with which he treated the sport. The National Hockey League, one of the many organizations to benefit from his devoted service, sends heartfelt condolences to Pat’s loved ones and his many friends around the hockey world.”

In all, Quinn coached 20 NHL seasons -- a tenure spanning teams such as the Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings. On 15 occasions, he coached his teams into the playoffs. And his 1994 Vancouver squad made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

"We are all deeply saddened by the loss of Pat Quinn," said Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Chairman Larry Tanenbaum. "Pat was an associate and good friend to so many of us. We join hockey fans around the country in offering our thoughts and prayers to his wife, Sandra, and daughters Kalli and Val."

Brendan Shanahan, a former player and current Maple Leafs president added, “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.”

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Washington Capitals GM George McPhee noted that his son bears the former coach's middle name as a tribute.

"He's not unlike a Scotty Bowman in that they're really bright guys. They were really intelligent and they could see the trends, they could see the fads, the things that were going to come and go and the things that would stay. Very perceptive and he adjusted and advanced."

Listed at more than 200 pounds and six-feet-three inches tall, Quinn loomed over the bench. But, as Maple Leafs director of hockey and scouting administration Reid Mitchell noted, he was all heart -- a gentle giant, he told CP, who was a "larger-than-life kind of guy, in stature and even his smile."

But he was also, as the Globe and Mail's David Shoalts writes, a man who came right to the point, In hockey, that point was punctuated with devastating hockey hits. And off the ice, it was about how he dealt with payers, reporters and fellow executives.

“Pat Quinn, when I was Olympic coach in 2010, was great assistance to me, great man, unbelievable presence," Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told "Intelligent, intelligent guy. Great at handling the media in Toronto, maybe the last guy who was able to do that. Spent his whole life in the game.”

Quinn was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2012.

News of Quinn's illness broke last week after Quinn didn't appear at the Hall of Fame awards ceremony in Toronto. Up until then, his situation, the Vancouver Sun reports, had been respectfully hushed by the hockey world.

"In response to the numerous inquiries following my father's absence at the recent Hockey Hall of Fame induction celebrations, we would like to thank our friends, hockey family and media for their concerns regarding his ongoing health issues," his daughter Kalli Quinn told the newspaper on Friday. "As everyone knows, Dad has always met his challenges head on, as he has with this latest setback."

In the wake of Quinn's death, his wife Sandra and the rest of his family have requested privacy and have not issued a statement.

The Vancouver Giants are asking anyone who would like to send condolences to either email or send mail to the Giants’ offices at 100 North Renfrew Street, Vancouver, BC, V5K 3N7.