OTTAWA – Pat Quinn wasn’t ready for life after hockey.
After 19 years coaching in the NHL, Quinn was at loose ends when the Toronto Maple Leafs fired him in April, 2006.
He dabbled in retirement, but it didn’t take. He was coaching Canada’s Spengler Cup team within months.
“I didn’t prepare well not to be busy,” Quinn admits. “The world likes to think coaches are hired to be fired, but you don’t ever plan on that. You plan to hold onto your job as long as you want.
“Yes, I miss the day-to-day workload. I like the long days, I like being around the rink, I like being around the players, so I miss all that. Your work often gives you your meaning in life.”
The 65-year-old from Hamilton found his second wind as an itinerant coach of Hockey Canada’s youngest men’s teams this year. In April, he led Canada to gold in the world under-18 championship in Kazan, Russia.
And when Benoit Groulx resigned from the under-20 team in September, Quinn was Groulx’s replacement. Canada opens defence of the gold medal it has won four straight years at the world junior hockey championship Friday versus the Czech Republic (TSN, 7:30 p.m. ET).
Quinn’s NHL and international resumes are vast. Not only did he coach in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto, but he was also general manager in Toronto and Vancouver and served as team president with the Canucks.
When the Leafs fired him after missing the playoffs in 2006, Quinn’s winning percentage in the league was 69 per cent and second only to Scotty Bowman.
A former NHL defenceman with Toronto, Atlanta and Vancouver, Quinn ranks fourth in the NHL all-time in games coached (1,318) and wins (657). He won the Jack Adams Award that goes to the league’s top coach in 1980 and 1992.
While Quinn has never won a Stanley Cup, his Vancouver Canucks pushed the New York Rangers to seven games in the 1994 final, and he also went to the final with Philadelphia in 1980.
Canada ended 50 years without an Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey under Quinn at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. He was also the winning coach at the World Cup of Hockey two years later.
This may be Quinn’s 10th time as either a coach or general manager of a Canadian team, but he’d never worked with teams of teenagers before the world under-18 championship.
“They were open-minded, exuberant, fresh and they were eager to learn as much as they could,” Quinn said. “They were attentive. They weren’t obnoxious or egotistical.
“They were a really great group of young men and I expect the same of these young men.”
What Quinn brings as coach of the junior team _ and it’s also what Brent Sutter and Craig Hartsburg also brought the last four years at this tournament _ is having had success in the NHL, which gets young players’ attention like nothing else.
Quinn may be in hurry-up mode trying to get to know his young players, but he knows from his experience with the under-18 team that he can get a lot a done if they’re hanging on his every word.
“We didn’t have to rattle their chains to keep their attention,” he said. “Canadian hockey is in good hands in a lot of cases. These kids are turning out sharper, better prepared, very skilful and respectful.
“That was the nice thing about that group I had and what I expect from this group is they are respectful to the process and to their teammates and certainly to their coaches.”
Windsor Spitfires forward Taylor Hall, 17, played for Quinn at the under-18 tournament and was released from the junior team. Hall was initially in awe of Quinn in Kazan, but Quinn quickly put the youngster at ease.
When Canada’s sticks were late arriving and the players practised with a club team’s sticks, Quinn told them to just do their best.
“He’s a demanding coach,” Hall said. “He’s got good systems and the drills we do in practice are great. He’s a guy who demands respect and obviously you respect him with his background. He values leadership and values your attitude.”
Quinn feels his greatest challenge in Ottawa will be shielding his players from the pressure and distractions that come with playing for gold at home.
“The fans will be raucous, strong and filled with high expectations and these young men are going to feel the same and that’s an area you will pay a lot of attention to,” he said.
“These are important issues for this young group coming in, dealing with Ottawa, the passion of the public, the intensity of the scrutiny and holding up to those high expectations is quite a job for these young men.”
While Quinn wants his players to be defensively reliable, and Canada can’t win gold without it, he rewards offensive creativity. He says there are subtle differences between coaching teenagers and Joe Sakic, Chris Pronger or Mario Lemieux.
“The way you coach depends on the level of maturity in your players, but the objectives are the same,” he explained. “The styles are similar, whether you’re dealing with five or 15 years old. You try to give them something they can succeed at and give them a style of play and ask them to be accountable to that system and to each other.
“I’m not a yeller, I’m not one of those threateners. I’d rather set it up so that I can give them a plan and they can execute and have success and encourage them through it.
“That’s the style I’ve always used. It’s been very successful over my tenure. The day I have to start admonishing them through yelling at them, belittling them or threatening them, I probably won’t want to coach any more.”
Quinn lives in West Vancouver with his wife Sandra and is a minority owner of the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants. He has two daughters, Valerie and Kalli.
Quinn has deflected questions about a possible return to the NHL. He’s thinking more about the challenge in front of him in Ottawa.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “I want to have a gold medal around my neck too.”