SUN Hockey Pool

It's crusty Quinn's first game vs. Leafs since firing

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

PITTSBURGH - As a young assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks in the early 1990s, even Ron Wilson admits being intimidated by his stogie-puffing, often-cussing boss named Pat Quinn.

Wilson likes to recall one particular night when the ornery Irishman was perturbed at the moribund effort being turned in by his team.

According to Wilson, Quinn stormed into the dressing room and launched into a leather-lunged, obscenity-filled tirade, an outburst that also included the head coach kicking items - including a water cooler - with his cowboy boots.

“After he was done, we went back into the office with him. We figured he was really livid,” Wilson recalled.

Instead of continuing his rant with his assistant coaches, Quinn had a question that caught them off guard.

“Do you think the players bought it?” Quinn said, inferring that his outburst had all been an act aimed at lighting a fire under his player’s butts.

“I don’t know about the players, but we certainly did,” Wilson said. “He scared the (bleep) out of us.

“He even told us he thought he broke his foot when he was kicking stuff with those boots.”

At that moment, Ron Wilson learned that Pat Quinn’s bark is often far worse than his bite.

Tomorrow, Wilson and Quinn will be reunited again, albeit on different benches. When Wilson’s Maple Leafs face off against Quinn’s Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place, it will mark the first time that Quinn will coach an NHL game against the blue-and-white since being fired by Leaf management after the 2005-06 season.

Quinn’s Oilers have struggled this season, mostly due to injuries and a lack of talent. As much hockey knowledge as Quinn and highly-regarded assistant Tom Renney bring to the table, they cannot score the goals or play defence for their players.

It is fitting that Quinn faces his former team at a time when so many lists are coming out of the best and worst performers of the decade in the world of sports.

Because, when it comes to the Leafs, the franchise’s fate certainly took a turn for the worse once Quinn was given the boot.

Sure, there were some warts on his resume during his time in Toronto.

Despite spending most of his tenure during the pre-salary cap era when management still could throw money around, he never could lead the Leafs to that elusive Stanley Cup.

There was that awful faux pas during the post-season one year when the names of Robert Reichel and Mikael Renberg were mixed up on the submitted lineup, forcing the Leafs to play the game one man shy of the active roster limit.

And perhaps, admittedly, he had worn out his welcome when then-GM John Ferguson finally dropped the axe on him.

At the same time, Quinn never really was fully appreciated for the job he did during his seven-season run with the Leafs.

Maybe it’s time he should be.

Only once during his stint in Toronto did Quinn miss the playoffs, that coming in his final season of 05-06. The Leafs have yet to qualify for the post-season since he left.

A flip through the franchise record book shows that Quinn ranks second among Leaf coaches in wins (300) to Punch Imlach; first in winning % (.591); and second in games coached (574). In 2003-04 he led the Leafs to a franchise-record 103 points.

To this day, Quinn cites the failure to bring a Cup to Toronto as his biggest disappointment with the Leafs. He thought the 03-04 team, featuring names like Mats Sundin, Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Alexander Mogilny, Brian Leetch and Ed Belfour, was the best shot but, like so often before, the Leafs came up short.

Of course, those seem like glory days of the Leafs compared to the post-Quinn era, don’t they?

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


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