As head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pat Quinn is best known among hockey fans today as one of the people responsible for bringing the team out of the doldrums and into NHL prominence in the late 1990s. But after several sometimes-controversial stops as a coach around the league, the much-traveled Quinn is also a veteran of the big league wars.
Quinn played for the OHA's Hamilton Tiger Cubs for two years and established an early reputation as a tough defenseman who wasn't afraid of a good fight. After that, he took a hockey scholarship at Michigan Tech but had to give it up after the NCAA banned players who had signed pro contracts from playing U.S. collegiate hockey. Quinn had signed his rights to the Detroit Red Wings, which made him ineligible. Instead, Quinn traveled to Alberta to play for the Edmonton Oil Kings, helping the team to a Memorial Cup.
At the end of his junior career, Quinn signed on with the Knoxville (Tennessee) Knights of the Eastern Hockey League and spent much of the next few years in the minors. In 1968 Toronto called up the long-time minor leaguer, where he played for two seasons. One of Quinn's best-known moments as a player was his crunching check of Bobby Orr as the Bruins were eliminating the Leafs in a four-game sweep in the 1969 playoffs. The two had engaged in a punch-up during the regular season, and many thought Quinn's controversial slam on Orr was payback for the earlier fracas. Although the Leafs said it was a clean hit, many in Boston wanted Quinn suspended for it and, to this day, die-hard Bruins fans contend that it was the Quinn elbow that contributed to Orr's decline and ultimate retirement.
After his time in Toronto, Vancouver in the 1970 Expansion Draft claimed Quinn. He played for the Canucks for two more seasons and in 1972-73 he went to the Atlanta Flames, where he was considered a cornerstone on the team's defensive corps until his retirement in 1977. As a player, Quinn's forte was never offense, he scored only 18 goals and got 113 assists in a total of 606 games but he nevertheless made an important contribution to the three teams he played for.
Fletcher wasn't the only one around the league who considered Quinn's experience a plus. In 1977 he joined the Philadelphia Flyers as an assistant coach under Fred Shero. Then coached the Maine Mariners of the American Hockey League for half a season before coming back to the Flyers as head coach and leading the team to two successful seasons in first and second place in the Campbell Conference. The Flyers recorded an NHL record 35 game winning streak under Quinn, who went on to sign a five-year contract with the team in 1981. But to the amazement of most Flyers fans, he was fired in just the second year of the deal. Quinn responded by enrolling in law school, continuing to draw his Flyers paycheck and keeping abreast of NHL activity by watching games on TV.
After being let go from the Flyers, Quinn wasn't finished with controversy in the coaching department. In 1987, back in the coaching game with the Los Angeles Kings, Quinn was suspended from the NHL for several months because he had accepted a $100,000 signing bonus to become president and general manager of the Vancouver Canucks while still under contract with L.A. The Canucks were also fined by league president John Ziegler for paying Quinn the bonus, as were the Kings for not reporting the deal promptly.
Nevertheless, Quinn coached 11 seasons in Vancouver, leading the team to a narrow loss to the New York Rangers in a seven-game Stanley Cup finals in 1994 before coming back to the Maple Leafs for the 1998-99 season. He quickly made his presence felt, telling fans and reporters he had definite plans for his new team, one that had been a little flat in the goal-scoring department in past years.
Quinn certainly became a big hit in his early days with the team he once played with, leading them to their first playoff appearance since 1996 and their third trip to the conference finals in the 1990s. Quinn also led the team to a club-record 45 wins. He finished the season as runner-up for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's coach of the year and during the off-season was named general manager of the Leafs as well. A short time later, he was named coach of Canada's Olympic entry for Salt Lake City in 2002. Quinn would coach the Canadian National Men's Hockey Team to gold, ending the team's 50 year drough. Two years later he would return to coach Team Canada in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, and once again the team would finish on top.
The international hockey success would end for Quinn when the Canadian National Men's Hockey Team was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. A few months later Quinn's Maple Leafs would fail to make the playoffs for the first time under this leadership, as a result Quinn was relieved of his duties as coach on April 20, 2006.
Quinn was named on December 1, 2006 as Canada's national men's team coach for the 2006 Spengler Cup, December 26th-31st in Davos, Switzerland