TORONTO – Another tough loss for the Edmonton Oilers didn’t spoil Pat Quinn’s return to the Air Canada Centre.
The veteran coach received a short video tribute during the first period of Saturday’s 6-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs and admitted afterwards that it made him a tad emotional. It was his first NHL game in the building since being fired by the Leafs in April 2006 and the first time he’s ever coached a game here from behind the visiting team’s bench.
“I didn’t see what was up there (on the scoreboard), but I could hear the music,” said Quinn. “This was a terrific place for me, both back when I was a player and for the years I was coaching here. I have terrific memories. That was a nice touch, I’m quite pleased. As disappointed as I am in how our team (played), that part added a little satisfaction.”
Quinn is the winningest coach in Leafs history, but hasn’t done much winning during his first season with the Oilers. His team sits dead last in the NHL – a full nine points back of 29th-place Toronto after Saturday’s loss – and seems destined to finish the regular season in that position.
Even though many of the team’s fans are excited about the possibility of landing Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin in June’s entry draft, all of the losing clearly doesn’t sit well with the coach. Quinn even spoke earlier in the week of his strong desire to win a Stanley Cup, something that is likely still a few years away for the rebuilding Oilers.
Just like the Leafs, Edmonton has turned to several young players late in the season.
They looked a little overwhelmed in the first half of Saturday’s game, when Toronto built a 5-1 lead on the strength of a persistent forecheck and a couple power-play goals.
“It was disappointing (with) a few of our guys tonight,” said Quinn. “They seemed lost in our zone. For 10 minutes we were fine, but I haven’t played in a 10-minute game in a long time. It wasn’t good enough for us for sure.”
Quinn’s post-game session with the media was reminiscent of his days in Toronto – he was blunt about his team’s performance and couldn’t resist getting a dig in at the referees.
The 67-year-old has consistently complained of how soft his team has been this season. He saw another example of that in the second period when goaltender Jeff Deslauriers ended up trading a few punches with Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf at the end of a scrum in his crease.
“Pucks started to go in on him and his team wasn’t protecting the front,” said Quinn. “He got bumped (and) I guess he didn’t like it very much. … My displeasure was the guys in front.
“They needed to provide a little more protection, but you know what, we’ve been a soft team in that area and (the Leafs) took advantage of it. The officials didn’t assist him, either.”
Quinn didn’t seem to be in any hurry to move on to Columbus, where the Oilers continue their road trip on Monday night. The coach clearly enjoyed revisiting one of his old haunts – shaking hands with familiar faces at a suburban practice facility on Friday afternoon before doing the same thing at Air Canada Centre a day later.
The Leafs had three 100-point seasons under Quinn between 1998 and 2006 and qualified for the playoffs in six of his seven seasons. Toronto hasn’t played a post-season game since he left.
Saturday’s video tribute ended with the words “Welcome back Pat!” and the veteran Quinn responded by saluting the crowd.
“I think I’m an emotional person all the time and the gesture is a very nice one,” he said. “I think I had a bit of a love affair with the fans here and I think they showed that they didn’t mind me either. That was pretty nice.”