Michal Handzus’ first go-around with coach Joel Quenneville came in St. Louis, early in each man’s respective career. Now together again with the Chicago Blackhawks, Handzus said he’s seen subtle changes in Quenneville’s coaching style.
“Obviously, he’s more experienced,” Handzus said. “You always have to adjust to the game; it’s a different game now than before the lockout. Other than that, the coaching style has been pretty consistent.”
The results have been consistent for Quenneville, too. The Blackhawks entered the Christmas break with a 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils, giving Quenneville his 686th NHL coaching victory, fourth highest on the all-time list. For his current players, Quenneville provides a balance of competitiveness and intensity with constant communication and good player-coach relations.
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“He’s an intimidating guy, but he’s still approachable,” said Andrew Shaw. “He’s a players coach, for sure. He’s played the game and knows what it takes. He puts guys in the right situations and he has confidence in us. His systems are great; when we play it to a tee, we’re unstoppable. It’s pretty awesome to be with a coach like him.”
Quenneville is identified as a “player’s coach” often, and the Blackhawks say the term fits.
“Playing for Joel is awesome. You know what you’re going to get from him,” Patrick Sharp said. “What I like about him is he’s approachable on and off the ice. You can talk to him about hockey, about personal things, and he’s always there to help out the player.”
Michal Rozsival has played for several teams, and some very good coaches, in his career. He’s been a rotating defenseman in the Blackhawks’ system, which is fine for the 14-year NHL veteran who’s had some injury issues. Rozsival said he appreciates Quenneville’s open-minded approach to coaching.
“He doesn’t coach like, ‘It’s my way or no way.’ Being here a year and a half, he’s definitely one of the better coaches I’ve had, probably the best as far as understanding players and giving them a break when needed,” Rozsival said. “It’s been a great experience to be part of the team he’s in charge of.”
Like any coach, Quenneville makes line and defensive pairing changes as he sees fit. Some don’t work – Patrick Kane playing at center wasn’t the most successful idea. Others have -- Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger were tremendous surprises on the penalty kill last season.
Tinkering is part of the job. So is sometimes sitting a player who’s not performing well or cutting back minutes. Players understand it’s part of the deal, and Quenneville talks them through it.
“That’s the important thing, that communication from the coach about what he wants from you, and he’s great at that,” Handzus said. “If you play well, you play. If you don’t play well or your game goes down, he’ll talk to you and let you know what needs to be better, and that’s what you need as a player.”
Quenneville is modest about his coaching achievements. When asked recently if he thought he could catch Blackhawks senior advisor Scotty Bowman’s record of 1,224 regular-season coaching victories, he said, “not a chance.” Still, with his victory total and two Stanley Cups, both in the salary-cap era, Quenneville’s done just fine for himself. He appreciates his time here in Chicago. His players appreciate him.
“You talk about all the goals and assists people have in this locker room,” Sharp said. “But to see the number of coaching wins Joel has, we’re talking one of the all-time greatest coaches.”