Pat Quinn and Bobby Orr dance the fandango.
John Brian Patrick Quinn
Born: January 29, 1943 (Hamilton, Ontario)
Died: November 23, 2014 (Vancouver, British Columbia)
Bobby Orr swooped behind his own net with the puck, his speed leaving two Toronto Maple Leafs in his wake. A third, Brit Selby, eluded a checker in front of the Boston goal and pursued Orr, who was forced along the boards. Selby made a half-hearted effort at a stick check.
Orr was distracted by Selby, so did not see the looming figure of 6-foot-3, 205-pound defenceman Pat Quinn. The Leafs defenceman made a bold, perhaps foolhardy, decision to abandon his post at the left point.
Quinn caught Orr at full speed, the Leaf leading with his left shoulder, which he raised, elbow forward, at the moment of collision. Quinn went and Orr wound up on his back on the ice, concussed and knocked out. Ken Hodge cradled Orr’s limp head, slipping his right hand out of his glove, which remained as a cushion between Orr’s head and the ice.
Referee George Ashley assessed Quinn a five-minute major for elbowing (others thought the penalty should have been for charging). While Quinn sat in the penalty box, outraged fans at the Boston Garden tried to get at him.
“I got attacked in the penalty box,” he once told the sportswriter Iain MacIntyre. “It was like a frenzy. I could feel the crowd stirring behind me. I turned around to face the crowd and raised my stick and a policeman in the penalty box grabbed me. While I was struggling with this big Boston cop, who had a stranglehold on me, we fell into the glass and it shattered, and the cop got all cut up. I dove on to the ice while the crowd chanted, ‘Kill Quinn!’ ”
Toronto teammates rushed to the area to join in the melee.
Boston won the playoff game, 10-0, which featured another brawl in the third period during which referee Ashley got punched and knocked down by Toronto’s Forbes Kennedy. (Kennedy would be suspended for the playoffs and never played in the NHL again.) The hit on Orr defined Quinn’s playing career.
“I play tough hockey, use the body a lot,” Quinn said after the game. “He was set up for such a check. There was no intent to injure on my part.”
Quinn spent nine seasons in the NHL as a player with the Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Atlanta Flames, after which he became a legend as a coach and executive. He twice won the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year (with Philadelphia in 1980 and Vancouver in 1992) and his 684 coaching victories placed him fifth on the all-time list. He coached Team Canada to a gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics — ending a half-century drought — and is a cinch to be a posthumous inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder. He was chairman of the hall at the time of his death. Quinn was inducted into the Order of Canada, as well as the Order of B.C.
John Brian Patrick Quinn was an altar boy who delivered groceries and the Globe and Mail in his neighbourhood in Hamilton, Ont. Quinn thought he would become a Catholic priest and spent the summer he was 13 at a seminary in Niagara Falls, Ont. At 15, he had to turn down a scholarship to attend the private St. Michael’s College in Toronto under coach Father David Bauer because the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings had territorial rights to players from Hamilton. Instead, Quinn joined the junior-A Hamilton Tiger Cubs and later skated for the hometown Bees.
A scholarship was offered by Michigan Tech, only to be withdrawn when the Red Wings told administrators the young defencemen had been paid $40 per week to play junior hockey. Quinn sat out a season before joining the Edmonton Oil Kings, where he won a Memorial Cup championship in 1963.
He kicked around the Red Wings organization, playing for the Knoxville Knights, Tulsa Oilers and Memphis Wings before being claimed by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1966 intra-league draft. He divided the 1966-67 season between the Houston Apollos and the Seattle Totems, then was loaned for a season to Tulsa.
The doubling of the NHL in the 1967-68 expansion opened up several spots for young players. The Maple Leafs had traded for the rights to Quinn. Coach and general manager Punch Imlach liked how Quinn threw tough, open-ice body checks. The defenceman made his NHL debut with the Leafs at age 25 in 1968-69.
He was claimed by the Vancouver Canucks in the 1970 expansion and two seasons later was claimed by the Atlanta Flames, making him an original player for two NHL teams. His career ended when he fell off a skateboard in 1977 and broke his leg in two places. In 606 NHL games, he scored 18 goals with 113 assists. He spent 950 minutes in the penalty box. He had a single assist in 11 playoff games.
Quinn was negotiating to buy an interest in a chain of gas stations in Atlanta when he decided instead to accept an offer to become Fred Shero’s assistant with the Philadelphia Flyers. He became head coach in 1978-79 and the following year led the Flyers (48-12-20) to the Campbell Conference championship by going 11-2 in the playoffs. The Flyers then lost the Stanley Cup finals in six games to the New York Islanders, the first of four consecutive championships.
Quinn was coaching the Los Angeles Kings when news broke he had signed a secret agreement to become president and general manager of the Canucks. The NHL suspended him for “dishonourable conduct” for negotiating a deal while already under contract. The ban was soon lifted, though Quinn was barred from coaching for three years.
“In my heart, that black mark will always be there and it shouldn’t be,” Quinn told MacIntyre in 1993.
He completed a law degree, though never wrote a bar exam, to go with the economics degree he earned while still a player.
As a superboss in Vancouver, Quinn became most important character in the franchise’s history. He drafted Pavel Bure after determining the young player’s overseas experience made him eligible, sneaking the young sensation into the NHL to the consternation of other general managers. Quinn won his second coach-of-the-year honours with the Canucks in 1991-92 before leading the team to the seventh game of the 1994 Cup finals against the New York Rangers. The unlikely Cup run transformed Vancouver into a hockey mad city, a passion yet to abate.
Six seasons in Toronto did not bring a championship, though his teams consistently made the playoffs, an accomplishment for anyone behind the Leafs bench. He concluded his NHL coaching career with a forgettable season coaching the Edmonton Oilers.
Quinn was one of the most familiar figures in hockey even in retirement, during which he was a co-owner of the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. A ruddy-faced storyteller, the Big Irishman loved to share the lore of the sport and was known for smoking Cuban cigars and wearing cowboy boots away from the rink. He gave up tobacco and took better care of himself after a health scare in 2002.
According to Orr’s memoir, Quinn’s health was endangered soon after the devastating playoff check, when a shadowy figure asked, in all serious, if Orr wanted Quinn dealt with away from the rink. The Bruin star demurred, wondering always what dire fate might have befallen his rival.
After nine seasons as a player, 21 as a coach, and more as an executive, Quinn never earned the right to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. That’s how hard it can be.
Pat Quinn gets down to business on the Canucks blue line, while Guy Lafleur of the Canadiens does his best The Great Gazoo impersonation. Photo by Denis Brodeur.
Bobby Orr is down and out after being checked by a flying Pat Quinn in a notorious 1969 playoff game.