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GREENBERG: The Way Quinn Coached

Flyers columnist on how Quinn changed the Flyers and players under his tenure

by Jay Greenberg @NHLFlyers

While playing nine seasons with three NHL teams, Pat Quinn had thought little about becoming a coach. A man's man with a big body and a bigger heart, he only knew he didn't want to be treated like a child. 

Long before Quinn started reading up on coaching methodology, it was his personal theory that the kind of coach he always had wanted to play for could effectively motivate through trust rather than fear. 

"I think what the players would see at the rink was what we saw at home," said Quinn's daughter Kalli. "Very patient, very supportive.

"He wanted to teach and include you rather than just tell you what to do. He knew if he gave the players on the ice too much it would be counter-productive, so he sometimes took them to do things like play flag football, creating a bond.

"He was very patient because he always saw something in people that others didn't."

No NHL team besides Quinn's 1979-80 Flyers ever has had 35 straight unbeaten games in it. Or even come close. Quinn looked at the picture of that club years later and wondered how it had reached even 10 in a row. As Bob Clarke recalled Monday night as Quinn was inducted posthumously into the Hockey Hall of Fame, those Flyers won and won all the way to within two victories of the Stanley Cup mostly because of the enthusiasm instilled in them by their coach.

Quinn turned his forwards loose to chase the puck, to crisscross both on the attack and leaving the defensive zone, while urging a defense that would have been in trouble in its own end to get up into the play like Flyers defensemen never had done before. 

The undermotivated Reggie Leach and Rick MacLeish had become reasons why Ed Snider and Keith Allen believed it was just as well that Fred Shero had left for the Rangers. Quinn got both going again while transforming organizational depth defensemen such as Frank Bathe, Norm Barnes and Mike Busniuk into rocks on a team that finished with the best record in the NHL.

"My God, it's Christmas and they've lost one game," said Boston coach Fred Creighton after the Flyers' 29th straight contest without a loss, a 5-2 win at Boston Garden, broke the Canadiens' NHL record. "It's hard to comprehend."

It still is. A tearful Kalli, introduced by Clarke, on Monday night remembered her father for two Olympic Gold Medals he won coaching Canada, a second Stanley Cup finalist he coached with the Canucks, and Quinn's long service to the game as a member of the Hall of Fame committee (he Chaired for two), before his death on November 23, 2014 from a variety of intestinal issues.

The 684 NHL games he won, sixth most of all time, with five different teams, never resulted in a championship, nor was one required for Quinn to have advanced his sport.

"Pat could motivate, he could change things tactically, he had every asset of a coach," recalls Paul Holmgren. And Quinn, who was hired to work with the Flyers defensemen after the death of Barry Ashbee in 1977, had been an NHL head coach for not even a full season when he made all this happen.

"He wasn't long in experience when he came to the Flyers, but he didn't come in unprepared," Clarke recalls. "So much of the coaching in hockey at that time was play good or get [bleep] from the coach. When Pat came in, he was interested in helping each player individually.

"He and Herb Brooks changed the game tactically. Brooks' (University of Minnesota, 1980 Olympic and Ranger) teams circled back some to form the attack while ours was more straight line, but both introduced more motion to the old wings-on-wings style of play.

"Our players left over from the Cup years needed that change. We went to the finals with a team that probably was middle of the road."

Almost nobody who ever played for Quinn, or worked with him, ever had tepid feelings towards him.

The smoke coming out of his cigar never was intended to hide his purposes.

"Everyone in those league meetings knew the intelligence factor was high and that he wasn't self-serving," recalls Paul Holmgren. "When he spoke, people listened. His motivation always was for the good of the game. " 

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