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Blackhawks Thu Jan 30 2014
Wednesday night's 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena marked not one, but two very important moments for the Blackhawks this season. The first was getting off the schnide from the team's longest losing streak in two years; the second was the team catapulting its coach into third place all-time in coaching victories.
Both markers derived from seemingly long journeys, but ultimately were inevitable. Mid-season blues are hard to shake for any team and the Blackhawks, with the help from everyone's favorite goalie in Roberto Luongo, got back on the winning track by scoring four goals off five shots in the second period alone. The result also made a certain mustachioed leader the top-three all-time in NHL coaching victories.
Joel Quenneville, the broad-shouldered leader from Windsor, Ontario, came to the Blackhawks as a pro scout in September of 2008, after coaching three seasons in Colorado and eight seasons in St. Louis prior to that. The promotion to head coach in Chicago came off the heels of the dismissal of fan-favorite Denis Savard on October 16, 2008. A month in with the franchise and he's got the keys to the company car, one which needed more fine-tuning.
Quenneville's stature alone is enough to earn the respect of anyone within his presence. At roughly 6 feet, 1 inch and 200 pounds, the white-haired, wild-eyed, sometimes red-faced new coach immediately drew the attention of his team, especially with young captain Jonathan Toews, by way of preaching discipline.
But in order to get an idea of Quenneville's demeanor as a head coach, one must look into his playing career, which spanned over 13 seasons with five teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Colorado Rockies (no, not the baseball team), New Jersey Devils, Hartford Whalers and Washington Capitals. By the time the defenseman hung up his skates in 1992 with the AHL's St. John's Maple Leafs, he amassed 54 goals, 136 assists and 705 penalty minutes.
Quenneville did finish with a minus-89 over his career, but the bulk of it came from the fledgling Rockies, which made the move to New Jersey after the 1981-'82 season. But it was his tenacity of getting to the puck in the defensive zone that gave Quenneville a reputation of being hard-nosed along the boards.
It was towards the end of Quenneville's career that he decided to give coaching a try. He already had spent over 10 years in the league and it was time to think towards his future for the next calling in life. That opportunity came with the St. John's Maple Leafs as a player/assistant coach, which ultimately led to full-time assistant coach, and the rest became history.
Quenneville learned a lot from Leafs head coach Marc Crawford, picking up on the nuances of what it takes to lead a team from behind the bench instead of on the ice. Eventually, Quenneville had the opportunity to break into the St. Louis Blues' organization, which ultimately led to a head coaching position. In his best season with the Blues in the 199-'00 season, he led the team to the best record in the Western Conference at 51-19-11 for 114 points and a number-one seed. But ultimately the team, which included future Blackhawks Michal Handzus and Jamal Mayers, lost in the first round to the eighth-seeded Phoenix Coyotes four games to three.
Quenneville would eventually make the move to lead the Colorado Avalanche to three winning seasons, but only made the playoffs twice, exiting early on both occasions. He received another revival following the 2007-'08 season after being hired by the Blackhawks and, ultimately, took the reign as head coach. What followed was some early success, a few questions of his leadership and decision-making skills (some still exist today) and in the end, taking his team to the ultimate peak in winning the Stanley Cup, not once but twice.
There's no question this generation of Blackhawks is one of the most talented in franchise history, and at times it's questioned whether or not anyone could coach a team of perennial All-stars and Olympians (10 of them this go-around). But just like the talented Phil Jackson-led Bulls teams of the 1990s, they needed a leader that wasn't Doug Collins to get to the next level. Savard had a difficult time doing it for the Blackhawks -- getting his team to the next level -- until Quenneville was able to add a little intensity and accountability within the locker room.
After breaking the mini-losing streak Wednesday night, Quenneville passed Dick Irvin for third place all-time in NHL coaching victories with 693. He' only 89 wins behind Al Arbour for second all-time and 551 behind Scotty Bowman for first all-time. Although Quenneville is only 55 years old, he has a long way to go to get to Bowman's record. Arbour's record is in sight, and he could reach it within a few years if not by next.
Quenneville has come a long way and certainly deserves every bit of praise for landing in the top-three all-time in coaching victories. He's already supplanted himself in Chicago sports' lore and only has been behind the bench for six seasons. Records were made to be broken and odds were meant to be defied. The head coach from Windsor knows what it's like to do both and keeps on doing it with every game.
(Photo courtesy of Topps.)