HAMILTON – From now on, Pat Quinn will always be behind the bench at his namesake Steeltown Arena.
After his 2002 Olympic championship banner at Parkdale Arena in his hometown East End mysteriously disappeared in February and brother Barry noted a lack of presence and memorabilia related to the Toronto Maple Leafs player/coach/general manager and Hockey Hall of Famer, a permanent fix was required.
On Saturday, just in time for the new hockey season, a 50-foot wall mural of the big Irishman with his trademark game-face glare was unveiled near centre ice, part of a well-attended re-dedication ceremony. The Hall also approved a copy of his 2016 induction flag, while a cabinet of photos from Quinn’s distinguished career, often puffing his victory cigar, has been assembled.
Barry had been shocked at both the banner’s disappearance, and that so little of Pat was evident in the 18 years since the Parkdale neighbourhood first honoured his sibling.
On Saturday, Barry was joined by family, local friends, residents, politicians, Leafs defence partner Mike Pelyk, winger Steve Thomas (who played under Quinn), Hall of Famer Geraldine Heaney and emcees Joe Bowen and Jim Tatti. Many wore a shamrock pin in honour of Pat, who died in 2014, aged 71. A bagpipe band tribute opened and closed the event.
“This is the arena where Pat grew up, the Mighty Quinn,” Barry told the crowd. “He became an icon of hockey (but) never forgot his roots.”
In his playing days, Quinn once convinced the Leafs team bus driver to detour on a road trip trough Hamilton to Glennie Ave. to fetch some bottles of his father Jack’s home-made wine to fortify their travels. Same story years later when he coached the Philadelphia Flyers for a game in Toronto. Everyone bussed to Glennie to meet his mother Jean and see her immaculate garden, her pride and joy.
A free skate followed Saturday’s ceremony, many people wearing old Leafs sweaters.
Bowen recalled that Quinn’s first Leafs training camp as coach in 1998 was also in Hamilton, after the team had missed the playoffs two straight years.
“Pat came off the ice after that first practice and said to me: ‘There’s a lot more talent here than I was led to believe.’
“That was very prophetic for that whole team and then you had guys like Tomas Kaberle, drafted 204th, who made the roster. The whole thing turned around on a dime.”
The Leafs were three wins away from going to the Stanley Cup final that spring, the first of two Eastern finals under Quinn and six straight post-season appearances.
“He was a great athlete, too,” Bowen said. “I’m sure Bobby Orr remembers him well.”
The tale of Quinn flattening the NHL’s best player in the 1969 playoffs against Boston was re-told many times Saturday, as was the near-riot that ensued at Boston Garden as irate fans tried to get Quinn in the penalty box. On the bus after, merciless teammates still made the youngster get off to buy some beer. He didn’t hesitate, walking right into a tough Beantown bar, impressing the locals with his bravery.
“He certainly saved my life a couple of times earlier in my career,” Pelyk laughed of Quinn getting between him and head-hunting opponents in a game or being peacemaker in a saloon.
“This was the kind of rink Pat would’ve loved playing in,” the 76-year-old Pelyk later told the audience. “Not too wide, not too long, everyone was equal.
“My first experience with Pat was the minors (both played with Tulsa) in a small hotel room in Oklahoma City, with a 14-inch black and white TV. Pat says ‘Okay, let’s get ready for the game’. He turns on the TV and lights up a cigar.
“But he had a high hockey IQ. He made the players better on the teams he was on. I keep his pin in my truck for good luck.”
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Thomas was part of the Quinn resurgence in his own second coming as a Leaf, scoring 28 goals in ’98-99.
“Pat had tremendous presence when he walked in the room and you knew it was time for business. If things didn’t go well in the first period, he’d take that big fist and just smash it against something.
“He wanted to win as much as we did, maybe more, and didn’t accept mediocrity. For a few years on the Leafs, there had been a lot of mediocrity.”
One of Quinn’s biggest frustrations was some of his modern-day Leafs appeared too comfortable with the constant adulation showered on them by fans, a legacy that was hard-earned by the four Cup teams of his generation. He didn’t want the present-day players taking that love for granted, a challenge that persists right to the present for bosses Sheldon Keefe and Brad Treliving.
“We looked upon him as kind of grandfather figure,” Thomas said. “One who each and every guy would skate through a wall for.”