Tuesday, May 25, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
CHICAGO Its undeniable that Joel Quenneville has led a storied career in the NHL. The ex-defenseman is just one of just three men to have played in at least 800 NHL games and been a head coach for at least another 800. He ranks 11th all-time with 535 regular-season wins and, aside from the legendary Scotty Bowman, is the only member of the top 14 winningest NHL coaches with a career points percentage of better than .600.
But one accolade had so far eluded Quenneville, even with 11 of his 13 teams making the playoffs: Coaching in the Stanley Cup Finals. With Sundays win clinching the Western Conference finals over the San Jose Sharks, the Chicago Blackhawks mentor can shake that monkey off his back and focus on taking home the Cup. And those close to him on the Blackhawks couldnt be happier.
With nine Stanley Cup wins and an NHL all-time best 1,244 regular-season victories, Bowman, now a Blackhawks senior advisor, has been around the rink a few times. So without deifying a man who felt such kinship with the Cup he named his son (now Blackhawks GM) Stan, there can be no higher praise of a coach than whatever spills from Bowmans lips. And the Hall-of-Famer was quick to praise the job Quenneville has done with the Hawks.
Its so great for Joel, Bowman said. Youve got to have players, of course, but Joel has paid his dues. Its about time.
Bowman was quick to note that Quenneville had indeed coached in the Stanley Cup Finals, as an assistant under Marc Crawford for the 1997 Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche. But he also knows that the head mans first shot at clinching a Cup is sweet.
No one knows a team better than a head coach, Bowman said. This team has stayed focused despite being young and not quite through all the playoff battles a Stanley Cup team usually has.
Bowman also praised Quennevilles work guiding a team that is so marked by youth overall and guided by such young stars as Jonathan Toews (who turned 22 during the playoffs) and Patrick Kane (21). He recalled only his first Cup winner, the 1973 Montreal Canadiens (ironically, cough, a team that upended the favored Blackhawks in the Finals), as having such a young element on it. But the sum playoff points total of players 22 and younger for Bowmans 1973 Habs was just 19 (led by Guy Lafleurs eight) while Toews (26 points) and Kane (20) lead Chicago in playoff scoring (and Toews leads all NHL playoff scorers), and 22-year-old Niklas Hjalmarsson has chipped in five points as well.
This most recent sweep was perhaps as the coup de grace of a brilliant coaching run for Quenneville this spring. Count Bowman as one of many veteran observers who were downright amazed at how well Coach Q focused his team specifically for the Western Conference finals.
These two teams Chicago and San Jose were neck-and-neck all season, the veteran mentor said. By that measure, you couldnt find two more evenly-matched teams. And yet the Blackhawks are advancing with a sweep. I just dont know how you couldnt have done a better coaching job than Joel did.
Blackhawks center John Madden brings all 37 of his years to the rink as a veteran competitor while skating like those legs are still 27. But for all his knowledge of the game, the Chicago alternacap was unaware that Quenneville was stepping into the Stanley Cup spotlight for the first time. In fact, no sooner than Madden had dismissed needing any extra incentives to win a Cup than this writer supplied him one.
Wow, I didnt realize that, Madden said. Is that true?
When informed that, indeed, Quenneville was leading his first team into the Finals, Madden recounted the joy he felt in helping deliver veteran coach Pat Burns his first Cup, with the New Jersey Devils in 2003. Burns had mentored three previous teams and labored 13 seasons in the NHL as a head coach before drinking from the chalice.
(Cue the opening notes of The Twilight Zone: Quenneville is in his 13th year as a head coach. Burns was 51 when his Devils won the Cup. Quennevilles age? Fifty-one.)
We were so happy to get Burns the Cup in 03, Madden remembered. Hed had some tough breaks that kept him from getting too close over most of his career. It would be great to get Joel a Cup, too. Id be ecstatic.
Quenneville, for his part, has been cool and calm to the core in the early days of his first taste of Stanley Cup coaching. Tuesday he was cracking jokes, like how he had a feeling that the number of ticket requests he was preparing to receive could be a concern. But the mentor also showed surprising perspective for a man whos coaching his first Stanley Cup club.
You never know how many opportunities youll get here, Quenneville said. The process is what youll remember: Where were you, what happened that day. The camaraderie around the room is what you cherish.
Such sentiment is music to the ears of Bowman, who recognizes that Cups are won and lost depending on the perspective a team places on the process itself.
It can break both ways, he said. Youve got to keep your priorities in order, but playing it too straight doesnt work, either. You get excited to be here, but keep it under control.
Cool Hand Q getting out of control? Well have to see it to believe it.
Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.