By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — As late Monday night turned into early Tuesday morning, Joel Quenneville left the United Center holding a beer in one hand and victory cigar in the other. The Blackhawks’ coach took breaks with each to unleash a big smile below that mustache of his.
Chicago is home to a Stanley Cup champion for the third time in six years, hockey’s modern dynasty, and Quenneville pulled off an extraordinary coaching effort to make it happen. He hopped in a limousine and was off to celebrate with family and friends.
On Thursday, Quenneville was greeted at Soldier Field to a raucous ovation from the red-clad crowd. He paced over to a podium and hoisted Lord Stanley’s prize before the tens of thousands gathered, showing immense pride for yet another achievement in his Hall of Fame coaching career.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Quenneville said.
Three … Two … One … (Horn)
The United Center went into a frenzy as those final seconds ticked away from the Blackhawks’ 2-0 Game 6 win over the Lightning. Players heaved their gloves and sticks, rushing to Corey Crawford for a celebration. Behind the bench, Quenneville hugged his assistants all at once, then swiftly shuffled across the ice to join his players. Quenneville had a moment to share with each one.
So suddenly, the Blackhawks vindicated Quenneville as an NHL bench boss. He won in just his second season in Chicago, in 2010, and has done it again in 2013 and now 2015.
Before Chicago fired its legendary Denis Savard and made a change, Quenneville had won 438 games and reached the playoffs in eight of his 10 seasons with St. Louis and Colorado. But only once did he reach the conference finals, with his Blues losing to he Avalanche in 2001.
Quenneville was fired from the Blues in 2004, with former general manager Larry Pleau citing need for “a new face.” And the Avalanche fired Quenneville in 2008, searching to break away from his puck-possession style and move to a fast-paced play.
The reputation for Quenneville was that he couldn’t get a team over the top. He was viewed a regular-season coach — that’s it.
But truth be told, it wasn’t Quenneville’s fault. The Blue missed the postseason in five of the following six seasons after the dismissal, and the Avalanche have reached the playoffs twice in the seven years since their mutual parting of ways.
Meanwhile, Quenneville has earned three championship rings with a special group in Chicago. Now, the reputation of Quenneville shines through how his Blackhawks are so resilient each postseason. Their 43-14 record in Games 4-7 of playoff series is simply spectacular.
“Joel has done an incredible job of I think just gauging where we’re at throughout some of these series, knowing what our team needs to do, what look we need to change as far as matchups or lineup combinations, things like that,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said before Game 6.
Those words ring like an alarm clock for those former executives in St. Louis and Colorado. Just a regular-season coach, Q is no more.
The astonishing accolades of Quenneville’s career now put him as one of three coaches with 750 wins and three championships, joining two of the greatest ever, Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour. Next year, he will pass Arbour at 782 victories, and he’s just one Stanley Cup shy, too.
Perhaps the greatest measure of Quenneville’s coaching success came this season, when he kept the Blackhawks on track for a Stanley Cup run through off-ice adversity and on-ice inconsistencies.
Of all the journeys Quenneville has faced behind the bench, this one was the most trying. It also became the most rewarding.
“I’ve never been more proud of a team than I am of our players from this year’s achievement,” Quenneville said. “This will go down in my memory, what made this Cup the best memory is all about team.”
Such pride carried Quenneville out of the United Center on Monday — beer and victory cigar in each hand — with a big grin underneath that trademark mustache. He couldn’t help himself, because this one was so special.
Coach Q has vindicated his reputation and validated his Hall of Fame credentials by leading hockey’s modern dynasty.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.