(written by Steve Milton: The Hamilton Spectator)
Humble, Fierce, Classy and Passionate,
Pat Quinn never forgot his Hamilton Roots
O.C., O.B.C., JD., LL.D.
In the newspaper industry, you're not supposed to become friends of the people you cover. It is obvious that the suits who preach that rule never met John Brian Patrick Quinn. It was almost impossible not to like and engage with Pat Quinn, who died in Vancouver...Sunday night (November 23, 2014) at the way too-young-age of 71. I covered him, almost relentlessly, for more than a decade; intensely I liked him and engaged with him on many different levels.
And he was my friend. He and his wife Sandra took me into not just their hockey circle, also their family circle. That doesn't make me unique. The Hamilton native had hundreds of good friends...because he was one himself. For a famous man, he was one of the most inclusive people I met.
Quinn grew up in the east end, on Glennie Avenue ~ renamed Pat Quinn Way...went to St. Helen's School, then starred in football at Cathedral High School. He played in the National Hockey League for 9 years, including 2 with the Toronto Maple Leafs...coached Canada to its first Olympic hockey gold medal in half a century...led Canada to the World Junior Championship just 6 years ago...and coached 5 NHL teams over more than 3 decades. He also set an NHL coaching record for most consecutive wins and was the last man to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup semi-finals. Pat Quinn played in and coached more than 2,000 games in the NHL.
Because of all that, over the last dozen years of his life, he had become a 'national icon'...as easily recognizable as Wayne Gretzby or the Prime Minister. But he never forgot his roots, geographic or socio-economic. Quinn and his wife, Sandra, formed a gregarious, welcoming couple and together with their two daughters...until the end. They welcomed people they liked, even sometimes critical journalists like me and the Toronto Sun's Mike Zeisberger into their lives outside of hockey.
From his earliest days on the outdoor rinks, it seemed likely he was bound for a career in sports. He was big, imposing and understood all the nuances of every sport. He played for Hamilton's Junior A Tiger Cubs, then the farm team of the Detroit Red Wings, who owned Quinn's hockey rights. The Wings sent him to Edmonton (Alberta) for a year and he helped the Oil Kings win the Memorial Cup, emblematic of Canadian Junior Hockey supremacy.
He played minor pro hockey, then made the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1968...and a few months later became notorious across the hockey world for catching the legendary Bobby Orr with his head down during a playoff game. Orr was knocked out and a near riot ensued on the ice, but Orr always insisted it was not a 'dirty check' and the two became, of course, close friends.
A rugged defenceman who didn't score much, Quinn's NHL career lasted parts of nine seasons before an ankle injury took him off the ice in 1977 and he turned to coaching. He was behind the bench for the Philadelphia Flyers ~ whom he led to the Stanley Cup final in 1980. He was General Manager and President of the Vancouver Canucks and General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But he always preferred coaching because that was where the most teaching and the most human interaction occurs and frankly, it was the closest to the ice.
Through his playing career he accumulated credits from various universities...graduating with a Law Degree from Widener University of Law. He told me, “The seeds of education were planted years ago by my father and mother. We were in 'wartime housing' on Glennie and a civic bylaw said that those houses had to have a foundation under them. My parents didn't have the money to hire someone, so my dad got my brothers and me out there to dig the foundations ourselves. I was maybe 8 years old and with every shovelful my dad said, 'if you get an education, you won't have to do this.'
That was for a Spec column just before the 2002 Olympics, during which Quinn became a household name in Canada for the way he rallied the team from an inauspicious opening loss to Sweden all the way to the gold medal.
Hamilton was with him everywhere and I got the sense that he and Sandra could make a home on the moon if they had to...because they had home in their hearts and memories. On Pat's first official day as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he spent the night, not in celebration at a luxurious Toronto hotel, but with his parents on Glennie Avenue.
He had money and fame and a legion of admirers, but his Hamilton blood always kept him humble. City Councilor, Sam Merula, recalls that when the city was renaming Parkdale Arena in his honour a decade back, Pat was expecting to have to pay to have his name on it. It must have been hard for an east-end-Hamilton boy to grasp that the city was not only honouring him...but willing to pay for it.
Pat and I were supposed to write his biography together...over the past half-decade; he was hesitating. I now don't think we would have ever written it, because he would have found himself caught in the impossible no man's land between a truthful, educational story and not wanting to bruise anyone's feelings or reputations...even those he didn't really care for.
That was the human side of Pat Quinn,
by far the largest side of large, in so many senses of the word, man.
I only regret that I wasn't able to get to Vancouver to say goodbye...
and more importantly, to thank him for everything.
So, I'm doing it now.
(The foregoing are excerpts from the lengthy detailed article published.)
Goodbye to Hamilton Hockey Greats
Pat Quinn and Murray Oliver were stars in junior hockey with the Hamilton Tiger Cubs…teammates with the Toronto Maple Leafs…NHL coaches…and long time friends. Between them, they made up a big part of this city’s hockey history. On Sunday, they passed away just hours apart…Murray was 77.
Scott Radley writes in the same Spectator issue:
Hamilton’s Murray Oliver carved a16-year NHL career beginning with the Detroit Red Wings of the late 50’s and 60’s. In a 1,127 game career with Detroit, Boston, Toronto and Minnesota, he collected 728 points. After his retirement in Minnesota, he coached and scouted. In the era he played, the wives did everything together…and the players were like brothers. The Quinns & Olivers were close friends.
Merle Baird-Kerr...written November 25, 2014