Has anybody ever won a Stanley Cup and a Kentucky Derby in the same year?
That would be a dandy double, but despite long odds, it is doable for Joel Quenneville, for whom the hits just keep coming. As Head Coach of the defending champion Blackhawks, he presided over his 693rd regular-season conquest with Wednesday night’s 5-2 victory against the Canucks in Vancouver.
Thus, Q became the third-winningest coach in National Hockey League annals—an extraordinary achievement when one considers that at 55, he is at the prime time of his profession, with many winters behind the bench ahead, if he so chooses.
Also, Quenneville was born to be a player in his first life. He logged 800-plus games as a quality defenseman over 13 seasons, not unlike Al Arbour, a bespectacled rearguard who performed on Chicago’s 1961 Cup team, then evolved into a highly successful coach much later. He retired with 782 victories and ranks second behind Scotty Bowman, currently a Blackhawks senior advisor. Bowman was a career coach, and what a career: 1,244 wins.
Arbour did not represent the cynosure of the magnificent New York Islanders, who romped to four consecutive Cups. He established rules and a mood, then smoked cigarettes between periods while his many stars dominated the NHL during the early 1980s. Arbour never called attention to himself, and players accorded him godfatherly respect.
Similarly, Quenneville is blessed with gifted athletes, 10 of whom are headed to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He is neither the face of these Blackhawks, nor does he aspire to be. But he is the mustache of the Blackhawks, who enjoyed a 2013 right up there with Wall Street while annexing their second Cup in four years. This season, despite a recent brief lull, the Blackhawks still own the fewest regulation losses in the league.
Quenneville never throws his charges under the bus, a wise approach in the modern era of monied players, but he will usher them to cameo—hopefully remedial—visits to purgatory, regardless of their status or salary. When Coach Q says one of his guys was “OK” during a game, it’s a message. When Coach Q volunteers that he and his staff are “looking for more” from an individual, it’s a warning.
But as Quenneville elaborated in “One Goal II,” a chronicle of the Blackhawks’ dream 2013 season, he is perfectly comfortable saying very little in hundreds of words at a postgame press conference. Why, he asks, should I explain to the outside world why I do some of the things I do when I don’t even explain them to my own players? Why offer even a scintilla of information that the opposition might appreciate?
As a coach, when players start sounding like you, even borrowing quotations, you know you have their attention. How many times has Quenneville intoned that the Blackhawks are “excited” before a game against Anaheim, to be followed by his boys of winter remarking after a game that they were “excited” about playing Anaheim? More importantly, the Blackhawks embody Q’s personality. He can be demonstrative, relentlessly juggling lines like a mad scientist. But he exudes passion and poise, attributes that are contagious.
Quenneville, a players’ coach, did most of his playing with the Hartford Whalers. Who knew that they would become a cradle of future leaders? Was it the Whalers’ proximity to those Ivy League institutions of higher learning? It is one thing for Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe to have completed their Hall of Fame resumes in Hartford. But after the Whalers joined the NHL from the World Hockey Association, and before they moved to Carolina as the Hurricanes, they bred an impressive alumni association.
Former Whalers are everywhere. Ron Francis is running the Hurricanes; Dave Tippett coaches the Phoenix Coyotes; Todd Richards helms the Columbus Blue Jackets; and Ulf Samuelsson, Quenneville’s blue-line partner, is an assistant with the New York Rangers. He joined Q’s summer Cup celebration here, as did Ray Ferraro, a high-profile TV analyst. Steve Konroyd played in Hartford, as well as Blackhawks Assistant General Manager Norm Maciver. So did Steve Weeks, the Blackhawks’ goaltending coach.
“Hartford was a small community, and we were the only game in town,” recalled Quenneville. “It was a good experience and a nice place to play hockey.”
But Coach Q is now in Chicago, where only two coaches have claimed more titles—George Halas with the Bears and Phil Jackson with the Bulls, six each. Neither, however, was co-owner of a thoroughbred like Midnight Hawk, undefeated and touted as a possibility for the Kentucky Derby. Quenneville has attended the world’s most famous horse race, but would prefer passing on the 2014 Run for the Roses.
As always, the Derby occurs on the first Saturday in May. Coach Q plans to have a scheduling conflict: playoffs, defending the Stanley Cup.
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