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Canucks honoring Quinn on St. Patrick's Day

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- There weren't a lot of dry eyes at Rogers Arena after the Vancouver Canucks mourned the death of Pat Quinn on Nov. 25 with a moment of silence and a stirring rendition of "Danny Boy."

Now, almost four months after Quinn died at age 71 following a lengthy illness, the Canucks hope to replace the tears with smiles as they celebrate the life and legacy of Quinn, their beloved former coach, general manager and president on Tuesday.

It's hard to imagine a more fitting day to remember and honor Quinn.

Not only are the Canucks playing the Philadelphia Flyers, who Quinn started his coaching career with, but it is also St. Patrick's Day, the perfect time celebrate a man known affectionately as "The Big Irishman."

"Nobody loved St. Patrick’s Day more than Pat Quinn," Canucks president of hockey operations Trevor Linden told NHL.com.

The Canucks did a beautiful job remembering Quinn in an emotional pregame ceremony two days after his passing. Singer Mark Donnelly hit all the right notes as a video tribute played and a spotlight shone on Quinn's image in the Ring of Honour.

"Everyone was in mourning then," said Linden, who was Quinn's first pick as the Canucks new general manager and president at the 1988 NHL Draft. "This is an opportunity to celebrate what Pat was about, tell some stories and have some laughs. When I look back at the staff when I first came in with Brian Burke and Bob McCammon and Jack McIlhargey and Mike Murphy and Pat Quinn, March 17 was always a pretty big day."

The St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Vancouver this year will include having part of a street adjacent to Rogers Arena re-named Pat Quinn Way in a ceremony an hour before the game. It's particularly fitting since many believe Rogers Arena wouldn't exist if not for Quinn's taking over the floundering franchise in 1987.

"I don't think it's an overstatement to say Pat saved hockey here," said Burke, now the Calgary Flames president, who started his management career under Quinn as the Canucks director of hockey operations in 1987. "When I took the job I had people from the NHL tell me not to because they said the team was going to move."

Born in the steel town of Hamilton, Ontario, Quinn may be remembered most as a coach, but he also left his mark on the ice.

A rugged, intimidating 6-foot-3 defenseman, he played 606 NHL games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Canucks and Atlanta Flames before going on to coach five NHL teams from 1979 to 2010. He reached the Stanley Cup Final twice and became one of four men to win the Jack Adams Award as the League's best coach with at least two different franchises.

Quinn started coaching with the Flyers as an assistant in 1977 and also coached the Los Angeles Kings before joining the Canucks as president and general manager in 1987. He added the job of coach in 1991 and guided the Canucks to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 1994, where they lost to the New York Rangers. Quinn relinquished coaching duties to focus on his management role the following season, but was fired in 1997 after an ownership change and returned to coaching in Toronto from 1998 through 2006, including several seasons as the Maple Leafs general manager.

Quinn also coached Canada to a gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, ending the country's 50-year drought. He coached Canada to gold at the 2008 International Ice Hockey Federation World Inder-18 Championships in 2008, and at the 2009 Under-20 World Junior Championships in 2009. He coached the Edmonton Oilers for one season and was named to the Order of Canada in 2012, but Quinn's legacy was so much more than winning.

It includes starting and steering the careers of past and present NHL executives like Burke, Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis, former long-time Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee, and Steve Tambellini, who was the Edmonton Oilers general manager for almost five years. It lives on today in the value system used by many, including Linden, to run their teams.

"It's almost hard for me to put into words the knowledge he brought, the knowledge he taught, the presence he had," Burke said. "When we first got here Pat said, 'we are going to the do the right things at all times.' The integrity of the organization always came first, from how we treated our players to always being active in the community."

Linden consulted Quinn before returning to the Canucks in April.

"I met Pat as an 18 year old and I was with Pat for 10 years," Linden said. "When I was hired the one thing I wanted was people that could carry the value system I learned from Pat. The organizational mindset I wanted, I learned from Pat. I saw the impact Pat had treating people with respect and being good to people and being honest and real. People loved Pat because he treated people well and with respect, regardless if it was the star player or the guy working security. You realize at the end of the day it's not about Stanley Cups won or goals scored. It’s about the legacy you leave and how you treat people."

The way he treated people may have been Quinn's biggest impact.

Burke recalled almost missing the flight on their first road trip because Quinn talked to everyone that stopped him in the airport.

"He treated everybody like they were his next door neighbor," Burke said.

That is the legacy the Canucks will celebrate before playing the Flyers on Tuesday, with special guests taking part in a pregame ceremony and puck drop, and friends and former teammates talking about Quinn during breaks throughout the game. But perhaps most fitting will be the pregame St. Patrick’s Day party outside Rogers Arena, alongside the newly named Pat Quinn Way.

"I remember when we used to play in Boston there is an Irish bar called the Black Rose and Pat used to love to go in there and have a couple pints of beer and listen to the Irish music," Burke said with a smile. "It's appropriate they're remembering Pat against the Flyers and it's certainly appropriate that it's on St. Patrick’s Day."

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