Pat Quinn had undeniable impact

— -- Pat Quinn was in many ways the gentle giant, his impact on the hockey world just as undeniable as the people he touched along the way.

"He was more than a coach, he was a friend for sure," former Toronto Maple Leafs star blueliner Bryan McCabe told

"He was a great man because he cared, he loved his players, and he cared about people," Canucks president and former star player Trevor Linden told reporters on Monday.

"The outer exterior was gruff and tough. But he loved his players, and I think that people saw that."

Quinn passed away Sunday night at the age of 71 after a lengthy illness.

Over the past two weeks, has reached out to former players, coaches and management types who were in the trenches with him.

Not surprisingly, the sky is the limit for the level of respect and admiration shown for Quinn.

"Pat was a great leader and coach," former Leafs captain Mats Sundin said. "I was fortunate to spend many years playing for him. Nobody got attention and respect from his players better than Pat. He was also a great person.

"It is a sad day for the hockey world, which lost a great leader."

The native of Hamilton, Ontario, wore his steel-town roots well as a player. Quinn was a rugged defenseman who played 606 NHL games from 1968 to 1977 with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Atlanta Flames, once famously laying out the great Bobby Orr with a vicious body check.

Legendary coach Scotty Bowman remembers seeing Quinn play junior for the Hamilton Tiger Cubs in the late 1950s: "He really was a rugged defenseman. ... He was a tough defenseman. Oh yeah, no question."

Certainly, though, Quinn's biggest impact would come behind the bench as a coach -- a two-time Jack Adams Award winner -- as well as a general manager.

His first crack came in Philadelphia. In his first NHL season as a coach, he won the Jack Adams Award, leading the Flyers to an NHL-record 35-game unbeaten streak and a berth in the Stanley Cup finals.

"Pat was a very well-respected coach, a guy that players would go through the wall for," said Paul Holmgren, who played on that Flyers team for Quinn.

"Pat had everybody's respect immediately. Our 1979-80 team had a lot of no-name players, like our defense; people around the league used to joke about it. We had a no-name defense. But we set the league on fire with the way we played, the energy and hard work. That was all from Pat. He demanded hard work and he got it."

Quinn's larger-than-life persona behind the bench took off from there.

"You didn't want to disappoint him," Holmgren said. "He was a man's man as a coach. There was no bulls---, he told it like it was as a coach. If you played hard and did your job, you would play.

"Pat was a tremendous coach. The longevity he had as a coach and the number of opportunities he got, that speaks to that. One of the most respected guys in our sport, I believe."

Fired by the Flyers in his fourth season, Quinn spent three years behind the bench in Los Angeles before heading off for a memorable decade in Vancouver from 1987 to 1997; he started as GM but eventually stepped back behind the bench.

It was the Trevor Linden/ Pavel Bure era, and Canucks fans won't soon forget that 1994 trip to the Stanley Cup finals, where the New York Rangers prevailed by the thinnest of margins in Game 7.

"For me, he was a real mentor," Linden said. "He really taught me the game and a lot of the lessons he taught me I still think about today.

"When he walked into the room, everything stopped. Guys were taping their sticks or talking, everything stopped. He could deliver a message like none other. His presence in the locker room was incredible. He respected his players but in turn, the players had a tremendous amount of respect for him; admired him, but definitely there was a little bit of fear, for sure."

From one frying pan to another, right? Quinn took over as head coach of the Maple Leafs in 1998, an era that would prove to be Toronto's last successful run since then. Quinn guided the Leafs to a pair of conference finals.

Under Quinn's guidance, Sundin played the best hockey of his career, while McCabe also came into his own.

"He gave me a huge opportunity to thrive," McCabe said of Quinn. "He let me play in all situations, had the confidence in me to play me 25 minutes a night. My confidence grew from there. He was a 100 percent players' coach. He was great to play for. He kind of left it in our hands. He wasn't a huge X's and O's guy, but was one of the best motivational speakers and talkers that I've ever played for."

Quinn's affable personality connected with players. McCabe fondly remembers Christmastime every year and a tie that Quinn always wore.

"Pat was bigger than life, and we would call him Frosty, as in Frosty the Snowman," said McCabe, chuckling at the memory. "Every year at Christmas, he would pull out this Frosty the Snowman tie. We just knew he'd wear it every year around that time. He'd come into the room for the pregame speech, and lo and behold, he'd have the Frosty the Snowman tie. It would take everything we had not to laugh. ... It was awesome."

It was during the 2002 playoffs that Quinn had a serious health scare.

"I remember when he got really sick during the run against Carolina; he was told not to go to the rink," McCabe said. "But of course he showed up to the rink with his hospital bracelet on. He didn't look good, but he came into the room and screamed at us. He just loved the game so much."

McCabe said Quinn's speeches were very effective.

"He was well-read, and a lot of his speeches came from books he read, from wars," he said. "He was a smart guy, but a gentle giant for sure. I was fortunate to have such a great coach, someone to learn from."

It was during those Leafs years that Quinn got the call from Hockey Canada to take over the Olympic team for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. No pressure at all, just the task of trying to end a 50-year Olympic gold-medal drought.

"The one thing we all agreed upon from day one is that, when you have a 10-day tournament like that, you need a people person, a guy that can reach out to all the players and get them all on the same page," Wayne Gretzky, who was executive director of the 2002 Canadian Olympic team, told "There's no question that Pat was the right guy for that role. When you make the hardest decision first, that just helps everything else fall into place. Right from day one, it was pretty evident with all of us in the management group that Pat was the right guy. That was easy."

The Great One says Quinn's demeanor and humility had a great impact in that pressure-cooker Olympics for Canada.

"The old cliché with Team Canada is that you check your ego at the door," Gretzky said. "But it's not just with players -- it's trainers, coaches and management. When Pat walked into the locker room, there was so much respect from the players because they all knew he would protect [them]. He wanted to shield the players more than anyone. He had no ego, either, as far as how he handled the bench; he gave great responsibility to his assistant coaches like Jacques Martin, Ken Hitchcock and Wayne Fleming. When the top guy doesn't have an ego, and he's very protective of the group, I think that spreads like wildfire."

Hitchcock said Quinn's ability to manage players was out of this world.

"I have never worked with someone like Pat in my life," Hitchcock told "There's coaches, and then there's managers of people. I've never met a man who manages people as well as he does on a coaching staff. I've worked with managers like Bob Gainey and Bob Clarke who manage people, but they did it from a distance.

"Pat had this unique ability to include everybody and allow you the freedom of expression, and yet he was the coach. Which I found to be a quality that was terrific for the growth of people. He allowed people to grow and use their strengths. He was never intimidated by another person's strengths. To me, I don't think I've ever worked with a person that was more comfortable in his own skin than Pat Quinn. He was so unique in that way; he just let you do what you did well. He had this ability to know what each coach's strengths were, and then he'd turn you loose on your strengths. And he always took the hit for your weaknesses."

Both Gretzky and Hitchcock chuckled when asked for a funny Salt Lake City anecdote.

"His big thing in Salt Lake is that he fell in love with a campaign having to do with a can of ass whup," laughed Gretzky. "He loved that. Every time we had a tough night, especially early in the tournament, he had this big fake can that he made -- it was probably a can of hairspray he put white tape around -- and he'd say to the players: 'Can of ass whup.' It was funny. But it calmed the players down."

Hitchcock remembers Quinn being the calmest guy around.

"The stress and pressure on the players and on management and on us as coaches in Salt Lake was right through the roof," Hitchcock said. "I remember Wayne Fleming and I had this brilliant plan that we would buy up every newspaper so the players didn't have to read. We did that every day; we would go to the commissary and buy up all the papers so nobody could see what people were saying. Pat just laughed at us. He never said we were dumb for doing it, but I'm sure he just giggled every day for what these two idiots were doing."

Quinn never won a Stanley Cup, but Olympic glory he got, guiding that team in Salt Lake to victory and relieving 50 years of stress from hockey-mad Canada.

When the buzzer sounded after the gold-medal game, Hitchcock remembers Quinn's reaction while the team was celebrating.

"His whole family was standing on the bench with him and everybody else was on the ice, but Pat was on the bench with his family," Hitchcock said. "I thought that was the neatest picture I had ever seen. He had everybody on the bench. He was like this proud dad watching us all get goofy. I thought that was really unique."

More international glory would come two years later when Quinn guided Canada to the World Cup of Hockey title at Air Canada Centre on the eve of the NHL lockout.

"It was the year of the lockout and there was a lot of debris around the team, like unbelievable debris outside of competition around the team," Hitchcock said. "Pat kept that outside the door all the time. He spent half the day chasing people outside the locker room. He did a great job. It was like three full-time jobs he had: He was coaching; he was managing the people that owned the Toronto Maple Leafs at that time because they wanted to be part of the action; and then all the stuff that was going to happen the day after the competition ended. He never let any of that stuff in the locker room. I don't think there's a coach in the world that would have the physical and mental strength to do that except for him, because he was so comfortable in his own skin. He just didn't care what people said or thought. He just did it because that was the best thing to do."

Former Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson turned to Quinn many times for international events and came away with a friend for life.

"Pat Quinn was not just a great coach, but he's been a great friend; we spent a lot of summers together," Nicholson said. "When I look at Hockey Canada, it started when he was GM of that worlds team in 1997. Plus, he was the only coach ever to coach teams to a gold medal at [the world championships world] under-18, under-20 and [the] Olympic Games. He's been huge to Hockey Canada and was always there for them."

He was huge to a lot of people. We'll miss you, Pat.