The Mighty Quinn

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    With his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame taking place over the weekend of November 11-14, below is Anthony Petrielli’s look back at the legacy of former Toronto Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn.


    I never did meet Pat Quinn or get to him know personally, but as a Leafs fan growing up he meant a great deal to me.

    I won’t talk about Quinn’s contributions as part of the Flyers, Kings, Canucks or Oilers. He did a lot of great things outside of Toronto, and so many fans will rightfully recognize him as a key part of their organization instead of this one, but I’ll always remember him as a Maple Leaf.

    If you are in your mid-30s or older, Pat Quinn might not represent the head of the best Leafs team you have ever seen, but he was certainly the last man in charge of success in Toronto. If you are younger than that, Quinn is essentially the only man you have seen guide the Leafs to considerable success. If you are too young to remember Quinn, I truly feel sorry for you.

    Quinn led the Leafs to their first division title in 37 years, and their first ever 100-point season. Later, he topped the 100 point season with a 103 point season, which is still a Maple Leafs record to this day. They went to the Conference Finals twice and played 80 playoff games between 1999 and 2004.

    There are a lot of great memories of Pat Quinn and those teams. Who can forget Quinn coaching with two black eyes, after getting hit in the face with a puck twice in the same week? Or how about when he missed two games in the ECF Final against Carolina because of heart problems, and the ACC played ‘Mighty Quinn’ when he returned to the bench?

    Or when Sundin got hurt and he rode the unlikely duo of Alynn McCauley and Gary Roberts to playoff success? Who can forget the battle of Ontario every year; when Tucker jumped into the Ottawa bench and Quinn started banging on the glass holding a stick, ready to fight himself? He might have been the oldest person between both benches, but I am not sure one person there could have taken him anyway.

    Of course, his time in Toronto was not without criticism (is anyone’s time in Toronto not without controversy though?). He was always condemned in the media for balancing and riding four lines versus loading up his forwards, with many believing Mats Sundin’s true point total potential was never realized here. It is a startling contrast to the current Leafs coach, who hasn’t rolled four lines for even a week in nearly 170 games coaching Toronto to this point.

    Many reporters called the Leafs a country club at the time. Toronto was considered a place where the veterans could do whatever they wanted, which was apparently their downfall. He was loyal to his players to a fault, rarely calling them out in the media and sticking by those he had success with. You know what, though? The veteran team led by Pat Quinn would never have allowed the mess that ensued in the previous two weeks to occur. There was no social media back then, but the team rode the crazy media with ease. Never too high after a big win, never too low after a big loss; there were a lot of Cup champions on the team who had been there and done that, and they didn’t get rattled.

    The team was nearly universally hated by everyone else outside Toronto, and that made them all the more lovable in Toronto. Was there a better moment that sums up everyone’s hate for the Leafs than when Sports Illustrated’s Michael Farber wrote an article titled “Why everyone hates the Leafs,” and Tie Domi responded by saying “Sports Illustrated? They write about hockey? I didn’t know that.”

    But what I loved most about those teams is that they were all-in. Pat Quinn took the Leafs, surprisingly, to the Eastern Conference Final in his first year with an exciting offensive team and unbelievable goaltender. From there, he shot for the moon. He tried to get Eric Lindros and was damn close, and he was this close to getting Vincent Lecavalier. That would have made his top two centers both over 6’3, skilled, and able to play two-way hockey. He was a unicorn hunter.

    Quinn added Gary Roberts, Brian Leetch, Joe Nieuwendyk, Alex Mogilny, Owen Nolan, and Ed Belfour. It was all-in, all the time. Trade deadlines when Pat Quinn was GM was like Christmas to Leafs fans. Who would he acquire? Can he add the final piece to put them over the top? What future piece would he sacrifice this time? Ultimately, the Leafs never did win a Cup under Quinn. They never even got to the final dance. But the pride he restored in Leafs fans, how exciting those times were, was a good consolation. What a great time that was to be a fan.

    Every year Ottawa would crush the Leafs in the regular season, only for Toronto to find new and interesting ways to beat them every single year in the playoffs.

    Tucker threw one of the dirtier, late hits in playoff history mere minutes after Roberts crushed Kenny Jonsson from behind en route to a series victory and nobody thought twice about it.

    You can talk to a lot of people now around Toronto – colleagues, classmates, family, etc.— who like the Pens, Wings, Habs, or are fans of whoever else, but in the Quinn era that was much harder to come by. They were fast, they scored, they were mean and physical, they had great goaltending, they had more money than basically everyone else and they acted like it. They truly were the Yankees of the hockey at the time, minus the championships, and it was so much fun to be a part of.

    A Saturday night in Toronto against the Leafs back then, man. Of course they lost some of those games, but generally speaking it was like stepping into the dragon’s den. Quinn would put out a Gary Roberts or Tie Domi to start the game, the puck would get dumped into some poor D-man’s corner, and physicality would ensue. Locked and loaded. The place would be rocking, Sundin and Mogilny would be flying, Cujo or Eddie would be standing on their heads. It truly felt like “Our House.”

    And Pat Quinn was the mad scientist behind the scenes pulling all the strings. That is how I will remember Quinn, as the last man to restore pride and a winning tradition to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Thank you for the memories, Pat. I hope you are enjoying a cigar and a scotch in Hockey Heaven.