Rozner: Quenneville's Blackhawks era shall not be forgotten

 
 
Updated 11/6/2018 6:27 PM
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  • Joel Quenneville, who was fired Tuesday, left an indelible mark on the Blackhawks organization.

    Joel Quenneville, who was fired Tuesday, left an indelible mark on the Blackhawks organization. Associated Press

The Blackhawks are heartless, gutless and clueless.

Those were among the words used to describe Hawks management 10 years and three weeks ago, when head coach Denis Savard was fired only four games into the season and replaced by someone named Joel Quenneville.

Media and fans alike were heavily invested in the Hall of Fame player and angry that he had been treated so unfairly, his friends in the press corps leaving behind all semblance of objectivity to skewer the Hawks.

But the reality is he didn't belong behind an NHL bench at that point in his coaching career, having never been fully trained for the job by Bill Wirtz and Dale Tallon, who then did Savard a second great disservice by hiring him to coach as a publicity stunt.

Nevertheless, few in Chicago knew anything about Quenneville and most were very unhappy about the change.

They didn't know about his success in other places, didn't realize he maneuvered a Colorado team into the postseason five months before that after losing his three best players -- Joe Sakic, Paul Stastny and Ryan Smyth -- at the same time.

They didn't know Scotty Bowman brought him to Chicago after he was foolishly fired by the Avalanche, and had him waiting for that very moment.

Joel Quenneville was a brilliant, established and professional coach and it didn't take him long to earn the trust of Chicago hockey fans, and -- much more significant -- the respect of his players.

There was never an unkind word or thought from the coach or GM in the days before Quenneville, no discipline when praise, promotion and protection were the order of the day.

But Quenneville entered and changed that quickly, bringing order to the proceedings.

Less than a month into his tenure, he had already benched Patrick Kane more than once, and in a game in Arizona he sat both Kane and Patrick Sharp -- his two leading scorers -- for the entire second period for taking selfish penalties.

There was a new sheriff in town and it was time to start taking your job seriously.

The rest, of course, is the best of Blackhawks history, the best decade of hockey the franchise has ever known, and will ever know.

In the days ahead, there will be time to dissect the decision the Hawks made Tuesday to fire Quenneville, to decide blame, to fire missives and missiles, to learn about a new coach and wonder about the futures of everyone involved.

But for a few hours Tuesday -- for just a few hours -- what felt right was to think of what Quenneville meant to this generation of Hawks fans and players.

He's the best coach the team has ever had and one of the best in NHL history, a certain Hall of Famer who will find work again quickly if he chooses to do so.

No coach is perfect and Quenneville was not. They all have flaws and Quenneville has his. But at his best, wow was he good.

Dozens of moments come immediately to mind, but you think of the 2011 playoffs against Vancouver, when the Hawks didn't belong on the ice with the Canucks, but after being down 3-0 he kept his players playing, and they somehow got to overtime of the seventh game.

You think of 2015, when he so ridiculously out-coached Bruce Boudreau in the conference finals against a better Anaheim team, taking him apart with matchups and line combinations from the puck drop of Game 7 -- on the road.

If you'll allow for a personal favorite, it was in Boston after the Hawks stole the Stanley Cup at the end of Game 6.

Late into the night on June 24, 2013, or maybe even morning at that point, Quenneville wiped tears from his eyes and had trouble reaching for words.

We stood on the ice at TD Garden and watched his players celebrate, and the head coach who could look so ferocious -- the only man in NHL history to play in 800 games and coach in twice that many -- was reduced to an emotional mess.

He choked up when explaining that he didn't think Bryan Bickell would even dress in the series.

He thought Andrew Shaw and Michal Handzus shouldn't have played.

He wondered how Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Dave Bolland had skated through their injuries.

He couldn't believe Patrice Bergeron played Game 6 with a separated shoulder, broken ribs, torn cartilage and a punctured lung.

"I'm just in awe of what these guys have done," Quenneville said, sniffing back the tears. "I think you have to commend the effort of both teams. The series was something very special."

And in 2015 at the UC after a Game 6 win over Tampa in the Cup Final, he talked of a brutal Nashville series two months prior, the "test of our lives against Anaheim," and the young Lightning that had no fear of Chicago.

"It's two months of playing so hard," he said, having to gather himself again. "Every game, every shift, it's so important. This group of players is really something special."

So was Quenneville.

For a decade so classy, so professional, so demanding and so honest, always with a truthful answer in a sports world where there is so little of that.

All good things must come to an end, but it doesn't diminish in any way what Joel Quenneville accomplished in Chicago.

What a great ride it has been.

And at least for a few hours, it should be celebrated.

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