While thinking about the abundance of reasons to be thankful, as a hockey fan, I can’t help but feel a real sense of loss this week.
It all began over the weekend, as we learned of the passing of Pat Quinn and Viktor Tikhonov. A closer reading of the hockey obituaries also revealed the departure of Murray Oliver and in the middle of this week, the death of Gilles Tremblay.
Pat Quinn was a giant of a man with an equally large personality. In many ways, I would consider him the Tip O’Neill of hockey; only he was more accomplished in his game than O’Neill was in politics. That says a lot – Tip O’Neill had the second longest tenure of any Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Quinn was also more beloved. I remember him as a player for the Atlanta Flames (he also played for Toronto and Vancouver) who made the transition to coaching with the Philadelphia Flyers. He was an almost instant success there, winning the Jack Adams Award in 1980. That Flyers team had an NHL record 35-game unbeaten string and made the Cup Final. Pat had already learned by that point the importance of breaking up the monotony of the hockey season, substituting volleyball and soccer for practice on occasion.
He would go on to get his law degree, and coach the Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers in the NHL. That wasn’t enough. He coached Team Canada to Olympic Gold in the 2002 games at Salt Lake City, ending a 50-year period without an Olympic Gold Medal for his country. Add another gold in the 2008 World Under 18 championships to that.
Pat served the Hockey Hall of Fame on its selection committee. When named the committee’s chairman in 2013, he immediately initiated moves to bring more transparency to the selection process.
Quinn and his family had numerous connections to hockey in Tennessee. He began his playing career with the Eastern League Knoxville Knights in 1963-64 and playing another season with the Memphis Wings of the Central League in 1965-66. Pat’s daughter, Kalli, served as Executive Assistant to Nashville Predators GM David Poile in the early years of the franchise.
Murray Oliver was 77 when he died Sunday, and would not be considered an all-time great. However, he made five NHL All-Star teams and played nine NHL seasons when there were only six teams, then played another eight after the league expanded. He had five 20-goal seasons, had a brief term as coach of the Minnesota North Stars and scouted for many years, retiring in 2005.
Oliver was a teammate of Quinn’s with Toronto in the late 1960s. “That was the day of the true policeman, too,” Quinn recalled for Canada’s National Post. “I got a job…to look after Dave Keon and Murray Oliver and those guys, that’s the reason I got in there.” It worked out for all concerned. Pat Quinn’s first NHL goal (in the 1968-69 season) was scored for the Maple Leafs. Murray Oliver and Dave Keon provided the assists on that goal!
Baseball fans recall that the 1970s Cincinnati Reds were referred to as “The Big Red Machine.” They weren’t as dominant as the Soviet National Teams or the CSKA Moscow (also known as “Soviet Red Army”).
Viktor Tikhonov was a true dictator who ran that club. He was an innovator, standing in front of the bench rather than behind it. Tikhonov took over the CSKA squad in 1977. His Soviet teams won eight World Championships and Olympic Gold in 1984, ’88 and ’92.
In spite of all that success, Tikhonov will be remembered for perhaps one mistake in that period of time: substituting Vladimir Myshkin for Vladislav Tretiak in net at the end of the first period of the USA versus Soviet match in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Tretiak had allowed a last-second goal by Mark Johnson to tie the game. Myshkin would take the loss in that one – which we know as the biggest part of Team USA’s “Miracle on Ice.”
As there was with all things pertaining to the Soviet Union at that time, secrecy was a high priority. While at the Olympics or on the various international tours, it was always a challenge to elicit any information from him (through interpreters) at postgame media scrums. Don’t think we didn’t have cause to wonder when a long question would be translated for him and he would respond with several sentences in Russian. The translation we received was often “No!”
I first met Gilles Tremblay at the Forum in Montreal in the late 1970s. He had been a typical “200-foot player” for the 1960s Montreal Canadiens, sort of a precursor to Bob Gainey as a gifted skater and checking forward. Typically, he would draw the assignment of checking a Gordie Howe or Bobby Hull.
But Gilles moved on from there to spend many years in the Soiree du Hockey broadcast booth, teaming with the great Rene Lecavalier. Gilles was as hardworking as a broadcaster as he was a player. He was always willing to help out a youngster in the business, and always did so with a great deal of class.
When we lose people like Quinn, Oliver, Tikhonov and Tremblay so close to one another, we lose a great deal of hockey’s legacy. The stories they take to their graves represent a tremendous loss to all lovers of the game. We can only hope this will help power the push for an oral history section at the Hockey Hall of Fame.