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Ex-Whalers Tippett, Quenneville share close bond

Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 2:05 PM / News
NHL.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Win or lose in this first-round seires, Dave Tippett knows he will see Joel Quenneville again this summer.

And Tippett knows he will also see Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen, Carolina Hurricanes Director of Hockey Operations Ron Francis, Modo (Sweden) coach Ulf Samuelsson and player agent Mike Liut, among others.

An old Hartford Whalers reunion planned? Well, kind of. Tippett's younger daughter is getting married -- and that means the gang will all be there.

"It's a small family event, but all of those guys are invited," Tippett said with a smile, just thinking about the stories that will be swapped at the reception. "(Tippett's wife) Wendy and I have been to all their kids' weddings. That's the kind of friendship we built there, and it all came from building a good team."

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The relationship between Tippett and Quenneville might be the tightest of all. The game operations staff at Jobing.com Arena might do well to strike up a few strains of Hartford's memorable Brass Bonanza theme song before the Blackhawks and Coyotes -- led by the two old Whalers -- do battle Thursday.

This will be a strange week for Tippett because he won't be talking or swapping messages with his friend as the two ultra-competitive coaches do battle. When Tippett won his 400th game last month, Quenneville had his phone buzzing. If one coach or the other has a big win or an interesting night, a call or text is on the way.

It's a relationship that began in 1983, when rookie Tippett joined the Whalers for the final 17 games and found a fast friend in the dressing room.

"Tippy was one of the all-time great competitors ever. He was relentless," Quenneville said. "He would do anything for the team. You had to admire with his (smallish) size and the way he competed. He left it out on the rink. You can't be any more intense than Tippy."

The friendship blossomed thanks a mutual love of the game, dressing room chalkboard sessions devoted to stopping Peter and Anton Stastny of Hartford's nemesis, the Quebec Nordiques, and a like-mindedness when it came to how you treat people that cross your path in life.

"Some guys back then would be down on rookies. He wasn't like that at all," Tippett said. "He embraced the whole team atmosphere and was just a real good person and a smart hockey player. We had a group of players that kind of grew up together and the core of that team -- and that was the mid-80s now -- to this day we are a close, competitive bunch."

Quenneville remembers Tippett, amidst his last go-round as a bachelor before getting married that summer, fit right in with a team that knew how to have fun and build friendships for life.

"Pretty remarkable that we still keep in touch and our families get together on occasion," Quenneville said. "It was a good group and they are everywhere in the game. We all still kind of root for each other."

Playing in the NHL's smallest city, where the players not only lived year-round, but held jobs in the summer -- Tippett had a building renovation company -- the Hartford Civic Center became the center of the universe on game nights.

"It was the ultimate small town -- Joel still has a place there -- and we were really engrained in the community," Tippett said. "I remember my wife telling me one night, 'I know 3,000 people at this game just walking around the building.' For a team to be that tight with a city was very unique."

The team had a mandatory lunch after every practice at Chuck's Steakhouse, located in the mall surrounding the arena. They hung out after games, went on vacations together and raised families who knew their teammates and wives as aunts and uncles, with Brass Bonanza serving as the soundtrack.

Led by the "FTD Line" -- because, of course, they always delivered -- of Francis, Sylvain Turgeon and Dineen, the Whalers reached the playoffs for the first time in six years in 1985-86 and stunned Quebec in the first round of the playoffs before taking the eventual Cup champion Montreal Canadiens to seven games.

It was the only playoff series the Whale ever won. And the city thanked them.

"We lose in the second round in overtime to Montreal, and they have a parade. I mean, who does that?" said Phoenix assistant coach John Anderson, a Hartford teammate of both Quenneville and Tippett. "It was like, 'Yeah, we're like 17th best!'

"But that was Hartford. At first, I didn't want to go there when I was traded from Quebec, but it was great -- 450,000 people all pulling for us."

Quenneville took a fair amount of ribbing in the room for being one of the last players to wear a tattered pair of outdated Lange skates.

"He wore them because he blocked so many shots with his skates and they were a benefit to him," Tippett said. "He'd be walking through the dressing room with a picture of an X-ray and you could see a crack right through the side of his foot, but he'd put his Langes on and be out there playing. That's the kind of team we had."

Quenneville still gets ribbed for the 1979 Langes, because he still wears them. And Thursday morning, he'll be on the ice with them on, getting ready to go head-head-to-head with Tippett. Either way, the good guys win.

"I can't change," he said about the skates. "Been with me too long."

Once a friend, always a friend.