Kelly Chase remembers that final game of the 1997-98 regular season.
The former St. Louis Blues forward was due a $40,000 bonus if he finished the season plus-10. Trouble was, coach Joel Quenneville thought Chase had gotten that needed point the previous game – Chase had, but he then lost it – and Chase wasn’t scheduled to play in the finale against Anaheim.
“I skated all afternoon the last game with the extras,” Chase recalled. “He wasn’t going to play me because he thought I was at plus-10.”
But teammate Geoff Courtenall let Quenneville know Chase was one plus shy. Quenneville immediately called Chase at his hotel room and told him he was back in the lineup.
“I played and at the end of the game, they pulled their goalie and Q put me on with [Pierre] Turgeon and [Brett] Hull,” Chase said. “And I got a plus and I got my bonus.”
Quenneville has long been described as a player’s coach. Obviously a big part of that comes from Quenneville being a former player himself but Ray Ferraro said there’s more to it than just that.
“There’s always a common sense and a real sensibility to Joel that a lot of coaches seem to lose when they step five feet off the ice and get behind the bench. It strikes me as Joel remembering the struggles of a player and how hard it is,” said Ferraro, who was Quenneville’s teammate in Hartford and who played for him in St. Louis in 2001-02. “Players understand which coaches have completely forgotten what it’s like to play and they appreciate when someone doesn’t forget.”
[MORE Q: How Quenneville got his coaching start]
Quenneville is in the midst of another successful season with the Blackhawks. He recently signed a three-year extension that takes him through 2019-20 and is now the second all-time winningest coach in NHL history with 783 victories. For those who have played for Quenneville, then or now, the success is well deserved.
“I guess a number of us in here have been playing for him for a long time and had a lot of success together,” said Jonathan Toews. “It's cool. I think you hear about different milestones – different guys getting to 1,000 games or 1,000 points or winning Stanley Cups – you feel close to your teammates. But I think when your coach reaches a milestone like that, I mean, that's incredible. We're happy and honored to be a part of that and obviously to have helped him, to a certain degree, get there.”
Quenneville has hoisted four Stanley Cups as a coach – his first as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche – three with the Blackhawks. Some say Quenneville’s had his success in Chicago largely because of the star-filled roster he’s coached all this time. But Chase says that’s nonsense.
“You can get more out of average players in a system. But to win with good players, it’s hard to make sure there’s enough pucks for everyone, that everybody’s happy and getting enough ice time. I think Joel does a better job of that than anyone,” Chase said. “[Chris] Pronger, [Al] MacInnis, they’ll tell you he made them feel like they were part of the process, the solution rather than it was him coming up with an idea and we’ll do it his way. He listened to what they had to say. He always made people feel like they were part of the answer.”
General manager Stan Bowman agreed.
[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]
“I think the sign of a great coach is to be able to get your most talented players to play their best, and that's not easy to do. Certainly that's the sign of a coach who's successful, is [that] they're able to get their top players to play well and to do it often,” Bowman said. “Joel's got a great feel for that, so we want to keep it going.”
Part of that is making the right off-ice adjustments. The Blackhawks, especially their core guys, have played a lot of hockey these last few years – they’ve played until at least June 1 three consecutive seasons. With that in mind, Quenneville keeps practices short – 45 minutes is considered one of his longer sessions – or he doesn’t practice the Blackhawks at all. The players happily accept that, knowing they better be ready come game day.
“As you're seeing right now, we've all learned to kind of deal with a shorter off-season and playing a lot of games in the months of December and January and how it can add up,” Toews said. “A lot of that comes with experience but also comes with what the coaching staff brings. Even the younger guys or newer guys that come into this locker room maybe haven't been used to having days off the way we have lately. But at least there's asense of our coaches; they treat us like professionals, they know we're gonna be ready when we come to the rink. If not, we always adjust what needs to be adjusted.”
As Marian Hossa said, “he does a smart thing here.”
“We’ve played so much hockey the last six or seven years, it’s important to take a break,” Hossa said. “When you are winning and you get days off and the combination’s working, why not continue that?”
Quenneville continues to find success. He laughs when he’s asked if he’ll ever catch the all-time winningest coach, Scotty Bowman (1,244 victories). Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. Regardless, the 57-year-old Quenneville has done some special things already in his coaching career and there’s still plenty more he could do.
“Everybody talks about a coaching shelf life. If you find a way to make sure the people you’re working with still feel there’s positive energy going forward, you must be doing something right,” Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “You look at all the situations he’s been in, they’ve all been top notch. And he’s made it that way.”