- Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- Like many players whose careers are coming to a close, Joel Quenneville was beginning to think about his career outside the rink in 1991.
Quenneville, a first-round pick for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1978, played 13-plus years as a defenseman in the NHL. But like a lot of former players-turned-coaches, Quenneville's desire to begin a new profession within hockey was borne out of his waning skills as a player. A choice had to be made: Go at it in the real world, or stay in hockey.
"I was a retail broker working for a firm in Connecticut in the offseason knowing that day was around the corner, so during that year , I kind of got the idea I'd like to stay in the game. [Then-Maple Leafs general manager] Cliff Fletcher got me started as a player-assistant coach the first year they had a team [St. Johns] in Newfoundland.
"I have to thank Cliff and the Toronto organization right off the bat for doing that. We had a great team that year. And that was the last game I played. We lost Game 7 of the Calder Cup finals and I haven't played since."
While Quenneville hasn't played since, he's done plenty of coaching. Lost in the hoopla of eight wins in a row, Marian Hossa's long-awaited debut and the thrashing the Hawks just gave the Sharks, is the milestone Quenneville is about to achieve. With the team's next win, he will become just the 14th coach in NHL history to amass 500 wins.
The normally understated Quenneville took a moment to ponder that accomplishment as his team wrapped up practice Thanksgiving Day in Los Angeles.
"It's a nice accomplishment," Quenneville said. "I've been fortunate to be around some really good teams and some great people at all the stops. It shows I've been around for a long time, but I'm really enjoying the situation I'm in right now."
Quenneville got his NHL head coaching start with the St. Louis Blues in 1996 after helping Colorado to the Stanley Cup the year before as an assistant. He credits former Blues general manager Ron Caron with giving him a shot, as Quenneville was instilled midseason for the oft-fired Mike Keenan. He lasted eight years in St. Louis before a three-year stint in Colorado. Including last year with the Hawks, his teams have been to the playoffs in 10 of his 12 coaching years.
Quenneville isn't a coach who shows a lot of emotion publicly or reveals his inner thoughts during news conferences. To find out what he's like in the locker room, you have to go to the players. Hawks center John Madden is a veteran who played for some pretty good Stanley Cup-winning coaches in New Jersey. He's only spent a short time with Quenneville, but delivers high praise.
"He's good at communicating, which, I think, a lot of people overlook as a head coach," Madden explained. "You need to let your guys know what they want. It's a long season and sometimes players get lost along the way and he's been terrific, not only with me, but with all of the guys. Young guys, older ones, goalies; he's been one of the better coaches I've had."
And even though the fans or media don't see it very often, Quenneville can lay down the law with the best of them. He very famously benched stars Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp last season when he had seen enough of them taking bad penalties. He can be tough, but fair.
"He's been nothing but fair to every single guy in the dressing room," Madden said, "but at the same time, holding everybody accountable for what they need to bring to the table."
Last year was the second time in his head coaching career he advanced to the conference finals. He's never been to the Stanley Cup finals as a head coach, but winning it in Colorado as an assistant keeps him wanting more.
"We won a Cup in '96 and when you win a Cup, you can't wait to do it again," he said. "That's how good it feels. Whether you're a player, assistant, trainer, whatever. That's what it's all about. Once you taste it, you have to have it again."
When pushed on whether he knew right away that the Hawks job could be his best opportunity to win it again, all Quenneville would say is, "It was definitely a great situation from the outside."
All long-lasting coaches have unique traits that make them who they are. Quenneville distills being a good one down to a simple point or two.
"The one thing is you still have to be yourself," he said. "I think you try to play a fun game and keep it simple and work hard for each other and usually you get results."
Who can argue with 499 wins and his current results?
Jesse Rogers covers the Blackhawks for ESPNChicago.com
1hMichael C. Wright