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Hockey / Sports

It has been quite a ride for Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville

With his time as an NHL player ended after 803 games spanning 13 seasons, Joel Quenneville chose not to spend the bulk of his days on the golf course, at the racetrack or working at a brokerage firm.

Instead, the gritty defenseman continued to lace up the skates, pile on to rickety buses and move forward with the next chapter of his life in hockey. That was because in the final throes of a distinguished playing career, Quenneville came to the realization he wanted to give coaching a try.

"I still scratch my head on why I'd want to be a coach," said Quenneville, who leads active coaches with 692 victories and shares third on the all-time list with Dick Irvin behind Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Al Arbour (782).

Quenneville will have an opportunity to move into sole possession of third place when the Hawks face the Jets on Sunday night at the United Center.

"I just think ... it's a continuation of being a player," he said of his desire to coach. "My last year (1991), I was playing in Washington, and I spent half that year in Baltimore of the American (Hockey) League knowing it looked like it was going to be over. That summer, when I went to Roger (Nielson's) coaching clinic, I was starting to give it some thought."

That led to his first taste of coaching as a combination player/assistant coach with the AHL's St. John's Maple Leafs for the 1991-92 season. While appearing in 73 games and being named a second-team all-star, Quenneville served as assistant to Marc Crawford. The pair spent the next two years learning the craft of coaching while huddled on buses and in hotels across North America.

"It was interesting," Quenneville said. "We had a real good team. I had to find the balance with Marc Crawford being the coach. I spent most of my time with him in the coaching room and then played the game. It could have been tricky, but I felt comfortable knowing that you have to do a little bit of both.

"We had some great hockey people in the organization as well to learn from. That was a great education as far as the transition from a player to a coach. I ... learned a lot, and it was a real good environment."

Quenneville and Crawford were inseparable as they honed skills that later would make them both Stanley Cup-winning head coaches.

"I had a little bit more experience with things like how to run a practice, how to talk to players and that sort of thing," Crawford said. "I always remember him being totally enthralled by it. It made me think, 'Yeah, he's going to be a really good coach.' I would always joke that the three (words) I would say to Joel were, 'What happened there?' And he would always know exactly what had happened.

"I've never seen anybody who has recollection and recognition of what has happened like Joel does. I'm not a doofus or anything as a coach but he's amazing. He really is. He has a very, very good mind. His recollection of what has happened and his vision are great. I believe that makes him as good as he is.

"I sent a note to him when he won the second Cup. I only sent three letters, which were 'HOF.' To me, that's what it is. His record speaks for itself."

After stints as the head man behind the bench with the Blues and the Avalanche, Quenneville is in his sixth season coaching the Hawks -- a team he has guided to two Stanley Cups and is a threat to win a third this season.

"There are a lot of things that Joel does really well, but the way he treats us is probably the biggest thing I've taken out of it," defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "He treats us like professionals. He expects us to be prepared and to be ready, and he has done a good job of ... just letting us go about doing our thing. We're very familiar with him, his drills, his practices and how he is. He keeps that all pretty steady."

At 55, Quenneville is in the prime of his coaching career. The 20-plus years since that first experience with Crawford and St. John's don't seem so long ago.

"Things have gone pretty well where I've been -- I've had some real nice teams," said Quenneville, who indicated he likely would be working for a brokerage firm if he had not gotten into coaching. "When things go pretty well, time flies. You look back, it wasn't that long ago when I was first starting. There have been a lot of good memories along the way. I've enjoyed it all. I'm still looking forward and having fun."

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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