Hockey vet Pat Quinn sees better times ahead for the Vancouver Giants
Searching for ways to kick-start a season that’s been stuck in neutral since opening night, the Vancouver Giants turned to one of their own for wisdom and guidance. Minority owner Pat Quinn has witnessed a lot in his more than 50 years of major-junior and professional hockey, but one thing he hasn’t seen is the Giants experience the kind of start they’re having this year, with just three wins in the club’s first 13 Western Hockey League games.
Not even in the Giants’ inaugural season (2001–02), when they won just 13 times all year—and only once away from home—were they this sluggish out of the gates. That expansion version of the Giants had managed four wins by this point.
So with the team struggling in virtually all facets of the game, management turned to Quinn, hoping he’d be able to shed some light on the problems plaguing the sagging hockey club.
“We knew we were going through a transition and that we weren’t going to run away with the league, but we thought we’d compete a little better than we have to this point,” Quinn told the Georgia Straight in an interview as he watched a recent Giants practice at the team’s training facility in Ladner. “Actually, I shouldn’t say that. Our competitive levels have been strong. Our kids are working hard during the hockey games, but we’re just making a lot of defensive errors and our goaltending hasn’t been as good as it needs to be, especially in the early games. And now we’re pretty fragile mentally, and for young people that’s hard to deal with.”
Quinn, who turns 70 in January, has seen the game of hockey from almost every conceivable angle: first as a player, then as a coach and GM, and now from the owner’s box. And although he’s best remembered in this city as the man who guided the Vancouver Canucks to Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup final, Quinn has plenty of recent experience dealing with young hockey players, having coached Canada to a gold medal at the 2009 World Junior hockey championship in Ottawa. He was also behind the bench of the Edmonton Oilers for the 2009–10 NHL season as that club began its youth movement.
So although he’s old enough to be a grandfather to the players on the Giants roster, Quinn can relate to them. And that’s why, in many ways, he’s the perfect choice to offer advice to the Giants’ coaching staff.
But Quinn wants to be clear that he’s only trying to help and isn’t looking to do head coach Don Hay’s job for him.
“I’ve had my run at it,” he says. “I’m not going to do Don’s job, and I’m not here to second-guess the coaches. They know they’re going to have a young team that’s going to make mistakes. My last year of coaching in Edmonton was probably as frustrating as I’ve ever had because management had decided to blow the team apart and start anew but they didn’t want to have the patience to do it. We want everyone in the organization to know that we’re not comfortable with losing—nobody likes losing—but we’re comfortable if the kids are giving their best and trying to get better.”
So, as he observes practices and watches games, Quinn is looking for areas in which the Giants can improve. With a young team, the talent level may not stack up against opponents on some nights, but Quinn is adamant that the hockey club can’t allow itself to be defeated before the puck drops. And one of the things that concerns him most is how fragile the Giants have looked on most nights so far this season.
“What makes the difference between good and bad hockey players is how they develop mentally and how they handle adversity, and right now we’re a team that is so scared that the first shot is going to go in, they play scared to make mistakes, and your brain becomes immobile to use the skills you’ve been working on all week,” he explains. “We have to mature, see if we can hold our level, and the worst thing that can happen is if the kids say, ‘What’s the use? We’re no good.’ We cannot finger-point; we can’t make excuses, and we cannot quit playing, and I have not seen that yet. We’re going to continue working to figure this thing out.”
One thing the Giants organization has already figured out is that it wants the Memorial Cup tournament to be held in Vancouver in 2016, which is the next time WHL teams will have the chance to bid to be the host team. And so everything that’s done between now and then will be done with an eye to the future. That may mean more lean nights in the months ahead, as young Giants develop into the type of players with whom the team believes it can win three years down the line.
Back to today, this is a proud franchise that doesn’t plan to throw in the towel on this season simply because it’s off to a tough start.
“We want the Memorial Cup here, and we want to have a team that can win in that year,” Quinn says. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t want to win this year, because winning is a learned thing too. We want to win now, and I believe we can. In the meantime, we need our veterans to be better leaders as we go forward, and they have to help these young people learn about this game and what’s expected of them.”
Quinn can see better times ahead for the Vancouver Giants, and he hopes that, in some small way, he can help the team get there sooner than expected.