By Stephanie Maniago
There are certain characters that are integral in telling a story.
From Jackie Robinson and Major League Baseball to Henry Ford and the automobile industry, to Finn McCool and the formation of Giants Causeway – there are certain individuals so intertwined with a tale that it is hard to imagine that it could exist without them.
When it comes to the Vancouver Canucks, that individual is Pat Quinn.
The tale begins in 1970 when the Vancouver Canucks were awarded an NHL franchise. With the expansion draft, Vancouver would acquire a steady defenceman that would later be synonymous with the Canucks. Claimed in 1970, Quinn would go on to play two seasons with the young club, collecting 18 points (4-14-18) and 212 penalty minutes in 133 games played. Quinn went on to finish his career with the Atlanta Flames.
“After two years [when the Canucks had a youth movement and traded or didn’t re-sign some of our players] what I noticed most was the absence of Pat and some of the other players that went to the WHA and how much they meant in our dressing room,” remembers the Canucks first Captain Orland Kurtenbach. “People who have played know the significance of a good hockey room. And when Pat left, we lost a big part of that.”
While the “Big Irishman” would go on to play for other NHL teams, it would not be long before he returned to his beloved Canucks after his playing career came to an end due to an injury.
After coaching stints with the Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings, Quinn joined the Canucks in the capacity of President and General Manager for the 1987.88 season.
It wouldn’t take long for him to make an impact. On September 15, 1987, he acquired Kirk McLean and Greg Adams in exchange for Patrik Sundstrom and the Canucks 1988 fourth round draft pick (later named as Matt Ruchty). McLean would go on to have one of the most illustrious careers in Canucks history, having held most club goaltending records until recently and having been named to the team’s Ring of Honour.
“He was the type of guy that had a presence and taught you the game of hockey,” remembers McLean. “He was exactly the way in the locker room with his players as he was with the rest of the employees and management. Everybody was equal – he respected everybody no matter what the position and no matter what you did within the organization.”
Quinn sought out to ice a competitive team, built of players not only with skill but character. They were individuals who were accountable, humble and hard workers. And, in 1988, at the NHL Draft, he would acquire a young man by the name of Trevor Linden that would embody those qualities and help instill a new culture with the Canucks.
In 1990.91, Quinn took over the helm as head coach midway through the season. Within one year he led the Canucks to first place in the Smythe Division and earned the Jack Adams Award as the League’s top coach.
“There are three words I would use to describe Pat Quinn,” commented Trevor Linden. “Integrity, leadership and presence.”
“He respected the players and, in turn, his players had a tremendous amount of respect for him.”
The boys in the room battled hard for Quinn night in and night out, inspired by his passion for the game and team.
The team continued to have success but it wasn’t until the Spring of 1994 that the Canucks would make a run that is still celebrated today. It was electrifying, mesmerizing and despite the end result, unforgettable.
The 1994 postseason stands out in Canucks lore for the ups and downs, the triumphs and travesties and Quinn’s hand was in all of it.
“Even though we kind of backed into the playoffs and were a bottom seed, Pat was able to bring key players in at the deadline and have them gel with everybody in that short period,” recalled former Canucks goaltender McLean. “He realized what we needed—bringing in Brownie [Jeff Brown] on defence—a great puck moving defenceman. Cliffy [Cliff Ronning] and what he can do. Then Nathan Lafayette and guys like that—unsung heroes who came in and played great roles. Pat was able to have that chemistry gel really quickly.”
That chemistry translated to an on-ice performance that inspired a generation of Canucks fans. From Greg Adams’ overtime heroics to Pavel Bure’s dazzling dekes, Canucks fans were treated to a spring like no other.
Despite decisively winning 5-0 in Game 1 against the Calgary Flames in the opening round, Vancouver looked to be on the ropes following three consecutive losses after allowing 14 goals in that span. That was before a brilliant perfor- mance by McLean led to an overtime tally by Geoff Courtnall that turned the tide. The Canucks won the next two games in dramatic fashion as it took overtime and double overtime to settle the score but it set the ball rolling.
“The energy that was created from within, from the team and the fans, just getting on a roll during and after Calgary you just felt unstoppa- ble,” recalled former Canucks defenceman Dave Babych. “You don’t get that feeling very often. When it happens, then you know what it takes. Even though we weren’t successful [in the final game], we all understand that it just would have taken a little bit more…There wasn’t much that we didn’t do other than win the last game.”
They rolled through the Dallas Stars in the second round and captured Canada’s attention in a third round upset of the third seeded Toronto Maple Leafs before taking on the Presidents’ Trophy winning New York Rangers. And it was all because of some savvy and deliberate acquisitions in the months and years leading up to that storied run. Whether it was Quinn and his staff’s draft picks like Trevor Linden or Bure, waiver wire pick-ups like Martin Gelinas and Tim Hunter, or trades like the LaFayette, Courtnall or Adams, that run happened because of Quinn’s vision and ability to make it happen.
“Some of the pieces that he moved and gained were all very precise on how you build a team,” recalled Babych. “‘94 was no accident. Even the early ‘90s, there was no accident with his success. Teams can underachieve and overachieve, and maybe we did both, but that success wasn’t an accident.”
“He got the best out of all of his players no matter what they brought,” said Stan Smyl. “Pat Quinn is the man that changed this organization around.”
The Quinn era brought the team the first true super star in franchise history in Pavel Bure, the first trip to the Stanley Cup Final and a captain named Trevor Linden. Beloved by the com- munity, Linden has since taken charge of the Canucks as President of Hockey Operations, fol- lowing in the footsteps of his mentor.
“I think the reason why our fans revere Pat is because he loved his players and he’s passionate about this team. He brought the pride back to Vancouver hockey.”
And it’s a legacy of Quinn that the team and its fans hope to uphold in homage to the man that brought so much to the game of hockey and the province of British Columbia.