In late November, Canadian hockey fans mourned the passing of legendary coach and player Pat Quinn. He was a two-time NHL Coach of the Year, with the 1980 Philadelphia Flyers squad and the 1992 Vancouver Canucks in 1992. He never brought home the Stanley Cup as a coach, but he did lead Canada to Olympic gold.
When people talk about Pat Quinn, they speak of him as a good man and a good coach. However, they also remember Quinn the player, and the thing they remember most is the 1969 hit that knocked out Bobby Orr. Although he and Orr became friends later in life, neither of them ever forgot that hit. When a reporter asked him about the hit over 30 years later, he laughed and said, “It was all shoulder. Clean as a whistle.”
1969: Maple Leafs v. Bruins
By the time the Maple Leafs and Bruins started their 1969 playoff matchup, Bobby Orr and Pat Quinn had a history. They’d brawled it out in a game on March 15, when Quinn slammed Orr into the net and smacked him into the crossbar. They started pummeling each other, bringing on a pile of players. but the skirmish ended with no clear winner. Quinn pulled a groin muscle and had to sit out the next game. Folks who gambled on the Bruins left happy as the team pounded the Leafs 11-3.
A few weeks later, on April 2, the type of gamblers who would much later in life be sure to snag top Canadian sports book bonuses online when betting were likely the same ones who would once again back the Bruins, knowing the likelihood of their victory that year.
Late in the second period, Orr’s Bruins were beating Quinn’s Maple Leafs 6-0. The Leafs had no chance of a comeback, and their playoff hopes were over. Orr had broken out of Bruins territory, skating close to the wall with his head down. Out of nowhere, Quinn slammed his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame into Orr, sending him back against the ice and knocking him out cold.
Boston fans were incensed. Some of the fans reached over the glass and started trying to punch the young player. They also threw garbage at Quinn and dumped beer over his head while he sat in the penalty box. Quinn got a five-minute penalty for elbowing, although fans continue to debate whether or not the hit was clean. Security eventually had to escort him safely into the locker room. Orr had a concussion and played the next day, even though he told other players that he had a pounding headache.
The Orr hit made Quinn infamous in Boston, but the story has an interesting coda. Later that night, as the Leafs drove out of town, Quinn was sent inside a local Boston bar to grab drinks for the team. It was a typical job for a rookie, although his teammates probably shouldn’t have sent him into the bar alone. Hockey fans immediately recognized him as the enemy, but instead of starting another brawl, they gave him his drinks for free. One Boston fan stuck out his hand and said, “Nice hit, Patty boy. Nice hit.” After all, Quinn was a good Catholic Irishman, just doing what he had to do.
‘He Was All Hockey’
As a coach, Pat Quinn metamorphosed from a big Irish villain into a respected and beloved mentor. However, Quinn wasn’t all fatherly hugs and kindness. If a member of the media said anything disparaging about him or his players, he would corner the reporter in his office and excoriate him.
If players didn’t follow his suggestions, Quinn would make their lives miserable. Yet he did something right, because he won the hearts of legions of loyal players and fans. He led the Canucks to the 1994 Stanley Cup finals, and in Toronto, he shepherded the team to the playoffs for six out of seven seasons.
Reporter Gary Mason paid tribute to Quinn in the Globe and Mail after Quinn’s death. Mason painted a human portrait of the man who’d torn him a new one for questioning his decisions as Canucks GM, who’d been devastated when the Canucks later fired him, and who’d relished taking Canada to Olympic gold in 2002.
Mason wrote that he saw Quinn after his Olympic victory, where Quinn chomped on a cigar and said, “How ‘bout that, eh?” Fitting words for a memorable career — and a life well lived.