By Adam Hoge-
UNITED CENTER (CBS) When you’re in a town competing against the likes of Ozzie Guillen, Lou Piniella, Lovie Smith and Vinny Del Negro, it’s easy to understand why you could fly under the radar.
Even now against a blander group consisting of Tom Thibodeau, Dale Sveum, Robin Ventura and the still somewhat unknown Marc Trestman, the head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks really hasn’t received the credit he should.
But now in his fifth year with the Hawks, Joel Quenneville has already won a Stanley Cup and a President’s Cup, while also delivering a really solid job with a with a young team in 2009.
It’s about time the guy got some credit.
Quenneville found out Friday morning that he is a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, given annually to the coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success. It’s an award he won in 2000 when he coached the St. Louis Blues to a 51-19-12 record, and after posting a 36-7-5 record and 77 points in a shortened 48-game season this year, one would think Quenneville would be the favorite alongside co-finalists Bruce Boudreau (Anaheim Ducks) and Paul MacLean (Ottawa Senators).
Friday, Quenneville’s players lauded him for the job he did this season, with Dave Bolland even going as far as to call him “a big teddy bear.”
“I haven’t been called that before,” Quenneville said with a laugh. “That’s surprising. Tough to comment on that one.”
In typical Coach Q fashion, he didn’t have much to say about being named a finalist, giving all the credit to his players.
“Their preparation from the start of the year really helped us do what we had to do and from there it was one of those years where, I don’t want to use the term automatic pilot, but it seemed like these guys really deserve the credit the way they got themselves ready and the consistency was there,” he said.
But Quenneville’s job was most definitely not on automatic pilot during the lockout-shortened season. He did a masterful job of keeping his players healthy and in shape with a hectic, crunched schedule. The team practiced less, but played better, earning a point in 24 straight games to start the season.
“To come out to the start of the season like that shows how prepared the coaching staff was on what we had to do,” Patrick Kane said. “Whether it’s putting together the lines or the power play or penalty kill or goaltending or just getting us ready for the first game, they did a great job.”
Quenneville has a reputation as a “player’s coach”, something he thinks is just a result of him recognizing the time off that is needed during a season. But the players truly love playing for Quenneville, despite him constantly having to make tough decisions with the lines and the last few spots in the lineup. In fact, this week’s reported spat over playing time between Quenneville and forward Viktor Stalberg — which both sides have denied — is one of the very few instances an incident like that has come up in the five years Quenneville has been in Chicago.
“I think we were pretty happy and honored to have him when he came in a few years ago as the head coach,” Kane said.
A lot of time as passed since Quenneville was hired in 2008, but it’s important to remember that it was a somewhat awkward transition when the Blackhawks decided to fire Dennis Savard four games into the season and promote Quenneville, who had been hired as a scout the previous spring. But it didn’t take long to realize why the move was made as a young team took off under Quenneville’s watch.
“It was tough to see (Savard) go for sure, but at the same time it seemed like a good move,” Kane said. “Q came in and we had a great season that year. Made it to the conference finals with a very young team and prepared us for the next year which we won.”
Now the Blackhawks are in prime position to make a run at their second Stanley Cup under Quenneville. And if that happens, Coach Q’s name should be right up there with the Mike Ditka and Phil Jackson in this town.
The Blackhawks often fly under the radar in Chicago, but it’s time to call Joel Quenneville what he is: a future Hall-of-Fame coach and one of the best this city has ever seen.
Follow Adam on Twitter (@AdamHoge).