EDMONTON – If Pat Quinn was ready to take it easy, he’d be spending his days spoiling his grandchildren or hitting golf balls at his vacation home in California.
At a time when most men his age are retired, Quinn is instead trying to get the Edmonton Oilers back on track.
Mired in a nine-game losing streak and with just one win in their last 17, the veteran coach has his work cut out for him.
But Quinn shrugs off the suggestion he’d be happier away from the game as the Oilers are destined to miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season.
Being a coach isn’t just what Quinn does – it’s what he is.
“Good or bad,” smiles Quinn, who turns 67 on Jan. 29. “Life isn’t always ups. It’s downs, but when you head to the rink the next morning you get a chance to make it better.
“I love being around the rink every day. As I got a little older, I liked dealing with the young players on a day-to-day basis. I look forward to challenging myself to find ways to help them get better. I try to focus on that.”
The Oilers raised some eyebrows when they unveiled Quinn as Craig MacTavish’s replacement in May. Not because the two-time Jack Adams Award winner as NHL coach of the year didn’t have the resume, but because he’d been out of the league since the Toronto Maple Leafs cut him loose after the 2005-06 season.
With 1,318 games experience behind an NHL bench when Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini hired him, Quinn’s been coaching in the league since before all but seven players on the Oilers roster were born.
“I wasn’t looking for retirement,” Quinn said. “I wanted to keep enjoying what I was doing. When I was let go in Toronto, I thought, ‘OK, I’ll take some time.’ I was offered a job right away and I thought, ‘I’ll just wait, figuring I’d get lots more opportunities.
“I thought when I was finished with hockey there would be something I could figure out. Well, three or four months into it, there was nothing. I found out I hated golf. I couldn’t play it at a competent level, at least to satisfy me.”
People who know Quinn aren’t surprised he took the job with the Oilers after keeping his hand in the game by taking Team Canada to a gold medal at the 2009 World Junior Championship. Stan Smyl, special assistant to GM Mike Gillis with the Canucks, is one of them.
“Pat wants to coach,” said Smyl, who played for Quinn, before becoming one of his assistant coaches. “He always had a passion for it.
“That’s what he’s best at. He’s very patient with players. The teaching part of it is something he loves doing day in and day out. He’s such a great listener and when he speaks, you listen.”
Patience, given Edmonton’s 16-27-6 record, has been a necessity. That’s not to say Quinn has sat back and simply let things unfold. Far from it. Unhappy with the effort of team earlier this month, Quinn cancelled a team golf trip and held a “minicamp” instead.
“Pat can be very hard,” said Smyl. “That’s why players, I think, have respect for Pat. He’s been around. He knows when to and when not to. I think players like that.”
Despite the struggles this season, there’s little question Quinn has that respect.
“He’s respected by his players because he goes to bat for them,” said Oilers forward Sam Gagner. “It’s been a tough situation this year because we haven’t been able to win for him.”
Gagner got some insight into his new coach in the summer back home in London, Ont., when he bumped into Jim Sandlak, who played three seasons for Quinn.
“He said, ‘You’re going to love him,”‘ Gagner said. “He said, ‘He’s a players’ coach. He treats the guys really well. He’s a lot of fun to play for.’
“Hopefully, we can turn things around here and make his time here a little bit more fun for the last half the year.”
It looked like the Oilers might get a start on that Wednesday in what was their best effort in recent weeks. Then a tripping call against Denis Grebeshkov in overtime led to the winner by Daniel Sedin in Vancouver’s 3-2 win.
“I figured I’d make a bigger difference than I have at this point,” Quinn said. “My desire and my goals are to help kids play the game. When you see them doing well and something misses at the end of the night, you wonder if there’s something more you could have done. That’s what challenges me.”