'Leap of faith' paying off for Blackhawks' Quenneville

'Leap of faith' paying off for Blackhawks' Quenneville
December 24, 2013, 10:15 am
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Marc Crawford remembers when Joel Quenneville was his assistant coach, first with the St. John’s Maple Leafs and then with the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche. He said one thing he often did was go over to Quenneville and ask, “What happened?”

“He has absolutely the best recollection of any coach I’ve ever seen,” said Crawford via phone from Switzerland, where he’s currently coaching the ZSC Lions. “Great players have great vision. So do the great coaches. And that helps because you’re able to read the game, see the game and have total recall of it and to be right. What you see is an amazing talent, and Joel has that.”

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Quenneville still has an eye for the game, and that eye and instincts have helped him collect 686 victories, the most among active NHL coaches and fourth most on the all-time list. As much as Crawford says he took from Quenneville, the Chicago Blackhawks coach says the same of Crawford.

“He’s one of those coaches who’s very direct, very firm, that’s his approach. You know where you stood and what was expected,” Quenneville said. “In some people’s minds, he’s a tougher coach, but to me, he was fine. He even coached me, so it was a situation where there was a lot of respect. You knew where you stood and that’s where it was.”

Crawford was coaching the St. John’s Maple Leafs when Quenneville joined the team as an assistant coach and player, his final season for the latter – “I like to tell him I made him an All-Star,” Crawford said with a laugh.

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Their boss at the time, former Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Cliff Fletcher, was already high on Quenneville.

“I didn’t know Joel that well when I got the job, but Cliff told me, ‘This guy’s going to be your assistant and you’ll get a good player.’ I remember from playing against him that he was a very good defenseman. Cliff was right. Joel had a great season for us, made second All-Star team in his final year of playing. We just got along so well, we have similar senses of humor and it wasn’t a case of me guiding him or teaching him. It was just two guys who got along really well. We helped each other.”

That two helping each other continued in Quebec and then onto Colorado. But Crawford said he had to convince Quenneville, head coach of the Springfield Indians at the time, to join him as an assistant again.

“It was hard because he was starting as a head coach and had had a very good year with Springfield,” Crawford said. “I told him this would be the best way. ‘If we have success, you’ll get an (NHL coaching) opportunity.’ It was a huge leap of faith. But I’m happy he decided to come along. He helped my career tremendously and I felt comfortable with Joel beside me. To this day, he’s best assistant I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of good ones.”

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You all know the rest of the story: Quenneville joined Crawford and the Avalanche won the 1995-96 Stanley Cup. Quenneville got his first head-coaching job with the St. Louis Blues in 1996-97, later led the Avalanche and then became the Blackhawks coach in 2008-09.

Given their history together, Crawford’s not stunned that Quenneville is doing well. Nevertheless, he’s still impressed with the numbers Quenneville’s totaled behind the benches.

“It’s not a surprise. But every once in a while you look and say, ‘Wow,’” Crawford said. “I still think of Joel as a young coach, and to see the numbers where he’s at, it’s pretty remarkable. He’s been with very good clubs. But it’s one thing to be with a good club and it’s another to win with them. He’s the only one in the league who’s won two Cups (in the salary-cap era), so that’s remarkable. If he can find a way to win three or four, which is certainly a possibility, then your legacy lives for a long time.”