Cup would cap career

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

In Greek mythology, the 12 Herculean feats were so difficult that they seemed impossible. In Canadian hockey, mythology is filled with tests that require extraordinary ability.

And while Pat Quinn may not have had to perform 12 Herculean feats, the amiable Irishman already has achieved several honours during his hockey coaching career that will be almost impossible to duplicate.

Quinn guided Team Canada to Olympic glory and a gold medal in 2002 at Salt Lake City and then repeated the feat at the 2004 World Cup. He now has his eye on the 2006 Olympic gold for Canada.

However, the greatest and most-difficult task facing Quinn is the one he has spent the past eight seasons trying to achieve -- taking the Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup final and then sipping champagne from Lord Stanley's oversized silver chalice.

And when I sat down with him for an exclusive interview, he was ready to answer questions pertaining to the current version of the Leafs.

When do you think the Leafs could advance to the Stanley Cup final?

Quinn: "I'm working toward a plan to prepare our guys for the moment when they face an opponent in the Stanley Cup final. This season seems like a good time."

You went from general manager/head coach to head coach this season. How much direct influence do you have on player movement? Could you, for instance, say that you want Staffan Kronwall for a certain game and general manager John Ferguson Jr. would say that he wants Carlos Colaiacovo for that game?

Quinn: "We work really well together. The fact is that the GM has the call on players, but John listens. While we do work together well, ultimately the general manager puts the team together, with help from the coach."

What will happen when Eric Lindros and Nik Antropov return? Does their return mean that players who helped the team win six games in succession will have to be dropped?

Quinn: "Those are the tough decisions in hockey. Usually, the players coming back are better than the ones who were playing while those players were hurt. However, when you have very good performances from the callups, then, hypothetically, it creates a situation where the team now has generated extra assets with which you would have to do something at some point in time. I'm not saying it will happen this time. But, in fact, we're allowed to carry only 23 players. We would have more than that with the returnees, though not everything is black and white. John (Ferguson) will have to make the roster decisions."

How often do you speak with Marlies coach Paul Maurice in general and, more specifically, before Marlie players can step up to the Leafs?

Quinn: "Normally, we talk with Paul all the time. Our players train together in camp and Paul knows the style we play and implements it with the Marlies. John would call Paul if we needed a player and we defer to Paul when we are looking for a player, may it be a checker, a skill player or a two-way player. Moreover, our scouts, including George Armstrong, are watching the Marlies. George usually watches amateur players, but I like him to watch the pros. He sees things we don't see."

So, is it just coincidence that since Maurice's arrival all the young players have performed anywhere from capably to excellently? Or, would that have happened anyway with Kronwall, Colaiacovo, John Pohl and Kyle Wellwood?

Quinn: "These individuals are very coachable. They want to suck up information from the coaches and older players. The environment they find themselves in helps them to improve. When I get these young players, I give them a chance to play and I don't sit them on the bench. If you don't give them a chance to play, you won't find out how they can perform under pressure."

Are there other players on the farm who could become regular Leafs next season?

Quinn: "We think so. There is Andy Wozniewski and also young Ben Ondrus, a Darcy Tucker-type player. He is an attitude player. I also like his skill level. Young Brendon Bell has a chance and so do Ian White and Jeremy Williams."

Do you have any discussions with John Ferguson about trade prospects?

Quinn: "Fergie leads all the discussions. It's his territory. As a general manager, you do that every day. He assembles his own team. I suppose you could get adamant as a coach and say that you don't want to use this or that player, but John is pretty knowledgeable. He also has Mike Penny (assistant GM) to talk to. In fact, all the young players we see now with the big team have been under Mike Penny's umbrella."

Traditionally, you are known as a coach who likes to mix his lines all the time. Take Mats Sundin, for instance. He seems to have a revolving door for wingers. Moreso this year. Why?

Quinn: "As coach, you are constantly looking for something better. If it works, okay. If it doesn't, you try something else.

Players don't mind the mixing of lines, providing it works. Most changes are made either because of injuries or because something is not working. That's when you try to find something that works. Sometime you make changes to avoid certain opposing checkers."

You are not known as a coach who likes matching lines. Other teams do. Why not the Leafs?

Quinn: "The truth is that I do match lines. I often used the same defensive pair with one of our centres, in which case I may change the wingers. The three players I want on the ice in certain situations are two certain defenceman and a certain centreman. Sometime you do it to escape opposing checking."

When you have a couple of extra days for practices that usually last 60 to 90 minutes, what do you work on? Does the tempo change during the season?

Quinn: "Our players like tempo drills. Sometime you call them no-brainers. I like to use thinking workouts and change the tempo so the players learn to think through certain situations. Hopefully, it gets the right response from the players. Some drills may not have that tempo, but they help the players to make the right decision. We also have workouts off the ice. That's when we work on a power fitness system for better conditioning."

How many points will it take for the Leafs to make the playoffs this season?

Quinn: "It's a lot harder to predict with the new three-point system. Traditionally, you figure you can make the playoffs with, say, 90 points. Now it could be 100 or even 105. If our players follow the team system and pay attention to what they have learned, we have a good chance of making the playoffs and advancing once we are in."

Leafs fans hardly can wait.

In the second installment of a three-part series, Sun Corporate Sports Editor George Gross talks to Pat Quinn -- the Maple Leafs coach. Next Sunday, the series concludes with Pat Quinn -- the family man.


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