In this edition of the "85 Years" series, Blackhawks Assistant GM Marc Bergevin discusses his former head coach – and current Blackhawks bench boss
– Joel Quenneville.
The first time I met Joel Quenneville was in St. Louis in 1996 when he took over as head coach of the Blues after Mike Keenan got let go. He was coming from Colorado, where he was an assistant coach when they won the Cup the year before.
I had played against him when he was with Hartford, so I remembered Joel as a player. I didn’t know exactly what to expect from my new coach that first day, but I had always respected him during his playing days; he was a very smart stay-at-home defenseman who always had a good stick and great positioning. He always played very under-the-radar, but he was also very effective.
Joel was the first National Hockey League coach I ever had who was a defenseman, so he was very good for me. Even though by that time I had 14 years in the league, I learned a lot right from the get-go. Joel taught me to be a smarter defenseman and how to use my positioning and stick better. Though he was only in his first NHL head coaching job and I was well into my career, he really helped me out.
I wouldn’t say Joel and I had a unique relationship back in those days; a head coach is like your boss, so getting very close to your coach isn’t something that happens often. But I knew he had a wonderful sense of humor and enjoyed life, both on the bench and away from the ice. He was as dedicated and focused a coach as I ever had, and he consistently got the best from us.
After I retired, I would run into Joel from time to time. By that point, he was coaching in Colorado and I was scouting for the Blackhawks, so we would cross paths before or after games and we’d always stop and chat. Even though he could be a hard coach, he was always very fair to me, and I respected that. We became much closer in those days – I always enjoyed seeing him. Our friendship progressed over the years.
When Joel came to coach the Blackhawks, one of the first things he did was ask me to join his coaching staff, and I was happy to take on the position. I learned a lot that season as an assistant because I saw another side of Joel, which, as a player, I didn’t see. He’s got a different temperament between the dressing room and the coach’s office; he can fire up a team as well as anyone, but he’s also very analytical and strategic and willing to change on the fly. I think that’s what makes him a very successful coach and arguably one of the best in the NHL.
I can describe Joel, both as a coach and a person, in three words: firm, strict and fair. That’s how he coaches, that’s how he lives his life, and his teams reflect his personality. What may surprise most Blackhawks fans to know is that Joel is easygoing as a head coach, though you might not see it as much during games. He’s definitely a fiery personality during a game, but he’s also an outgoing guy who brings personality and flavor to the organization. He never gets too high or too low, and you appreciate that stability as a player.
After bringing home the Stanley Cup, Joel has a pretty unique place in Blackhawks history now. Twenty-five years from now – and hopefully we’ll win more Cups before then – Blackhawks fans will always remember the first one in 49 years, and the man who coached that team. He’ll go down in Blackhawks history as one of the franchise’s best coaches because the ultimate goal is to win a Stanley Cup and he was a big part of that.
When you look at the coaches throughout the history of our league, very few have had the success that Joel has had in his career. He’s in rare company as a coach, but as a person and a leader, he is one of a kind.