Here's part two of my interview with former Leafs' Coach and GM Pat Quinn.
PPP: After being let go by the Maple Leafs after missing the playoffs at the end of the 2005-2006 season you stayed out of hockey until this past Spring when you coached the Under 18s to a gold medal. Recently, you were named to coach Canada's entry into the World Juniors. How did these two opportunities come about?
PQ: The first season out of hockey he had some opportunites arise but the fit just didn't work out. One issue was obviously that he was stil being paid the last year of his contract by the Leafs. The offers that were made spanned from scouting to consulting but nothing that really appealed to him. Having worked continuously since 1964 (and usually in hockey related positions) Pat started to suffer from withdrawal. He never really saw his work as a job since he was so passionate about the game but in its absence he was starting to realize just how much he missed it.
Obviously, he had a previous relationship with Hockey Canada from his time coaching the Men's Olympic team at Salt Lake City in 2002 and in Turin in 2006. Pat has always told Hockey Canada that he would do whatever he could to give back up to and including lugging equipment bags. He actually coached Canada's entry into the Spengler Cup in 2006 (Editor's Note: I can't believe that I forgot about that tournament and didn't ask about Justin Pogge. What a rookie mistake) and it was a very enjoyable experience. After that he returned to his busy personal life with included renovating his house and a burning desire to return to hockey that was only partially sated by the Spengler Cup.
Leading up to the Under-18 tournament, Hockey Canada wanted to improve their performance and identified that it made sense to use that tournament to mentor young coaches. In this case it was Guy Boucher and Jesse Wallin that HC was hoping would benefit from working with Quinn. Pat was pretty forthright in admitting that he was more than a little apprehensive going in as he had never worked with anyone other than NHLers. He tried to relate to where the kids were in their lives.
"They are 16 or 17, in their draft year with agents and are at a stage where most kids have not really developed their team play abilities. My worry was that the inherent self-interest and maturity level might hinder the cohesion of the team."
In the end, Pat found that his worries were not well founded. Barring one or two exceptions, the team was extremely grounded. Over the course of the tournament the kids really came together and played with an immense amount of Canadian pride and emerged as gold medallists. All in all, it was a marvelous experience.
On the back of that experience Quinn was ready to step in after Benoit Groulx, the previously named Under 20 coach, left junior to coach the Rochester Americans. Hockey Canada was eager to re-create the Under 18 experience with Dave Cameron and Willie Desjardins. Pat had had the opportunity to see Canada win gold in Vancouver and called the atmosphere 'electric'. He noted that the World Juniors had basically become the second most important hockey tournament and in Canada it's basically our March Madness. He was looking forward to coaching in ottawa (and sens fans are likely looking forward to knowing that his presence doesn't mean that their team will be going out of the playoffs soon) as he was sure that they would have the same kind of atmosphere as it's a great hockey town (Editor's Note: I'll assume that he was referring to the 67s and not the senators). Quinn noted, rather diplomatically if you ask me, that Ottawa was already on its way to setting records for attendance.
PPP: Speaking of the World Juniors, you actually might be in a position to coach the Leafs' first round draft pick - Luke Schenn if he is sent back down to junior or released for the tournament. Do you have any thoughts on what the right path of action might be with Schenn?
PQ: Pat doesn't know Luke personally but he coached his brother Brayden at the Under 18 tournament and so he knows that he comes from "good stock". Obviously, Pat noted, it's a life-long dream of Luke's to play in the NHL but he's confident that his long-term best interests are going to be driving the Leafs' decision. It's a decision that Cliff and Ron and the coaching staff will make together but at the end of the day it will be all about Luke.
Based on what he had heard (he hadn't had a chance to watch when I spoke with him) Luke had been performing well and that if it continued then maybe the Leafs would be the best place for Schenn to develop. For the first time in a long time the expectations around the team are moderate (Editor's Note: this was clearly an attempt to hedge his bets that I might go crazy if he said anything worse) and the Leafs have thus far been firm in their desire to stick to their long-term plan. However, at the end of the day, as we've seen early on, no one really knows how good this team will be this season.
Quinn noted that he had kept a teenaged first rounder, Petr Nedved, when he was in Vancouver. Actually, he remembered that he had Ron Wilson as an assistant coach during Nedved's first couple of seasons and he recognizes that it is a dangerous gamble. In his viewpoint, it's a move that a franchise makes believing that the coach can have a bigger impact on the player's long-term development rather than giving control to another coach. The key is that it could be a good situation for Luke if he plays because if he's just watching then it's not going to do a player that could be an anchor on the team's defence any good.