Monday, November 23, 2015

WRITING ABOUT A HOCKEY LEGEND

One year ago today, the hockey world lost one of its most beloved citizens, Pat Quinn.

In his first National Hockey League game with the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 27, 1968, Quinn let his opponents know they should keep their heads up when he came over the boards.

Red Burnett's game story in the Toronto Daily Star on Quinn's debut against the Pittsburgh Penguins noted the rookie's physical play:

Pat Quinn, another Tulsa Oiler (the Leafs' farm team in the CHL), took Dorey's place on defence and bombed Angotti (Lou) with a solid check to let the Penguins know he meant business.

Long after Quinn burst onto the NHL scene, his reputation has grown beyond that of an enforcer turned coach and executive. He became a mentor, who gave back to the game and cared about the people around him.

The story about how these character traits evolved and were nurtured are told in a new book on Pat Quinn published by Penguin Random House.

Earlier this month, Mike Wilson hosted a special event 'Inside the Room' to celebrate the release of Quinn - The Life of a Hockey Legend. Pat Quinn's siblings - Carol, Guy and Barry - were on hand to remember their brother.

Carol standing between Guy (L) and Barry.

Dan Robson (R) with Mike Wilson
Dan Robson, who authored the book, provided insight into the making of this mammoth project.

"It was an opportunity that was given to me, which I was fortunate to have," Robson said in his opening remarks.

His involvement in this undertaking began in December 2014. An email from Nick Garrison of Random House led to them meeting over drinks at a pub in Toronto.

"He started talking about Pat, who passed away 3 weeks before, and the outpouring of emotions and love for Pat in those 3 weeks after he passed away. Nick wanted to capture all that in a book and he asked me if I wanted that chance."

Robson jumped at the offer and as he stated, "it was the biggest opportunity I had in my career."

But his first reaction doesn't come as a surprise, taking into account the task at hand.

"I was immediately terrified, then I said, absolutely. It was a huge challenge, but one I hoped I could take on and do well."

When word filtered out that Robson, a senior writer with Sportsnet Magazine, would be penning Quinn's story, there was skepticism about a young scribe getting the job. Some held the opinion a contemporary of Quinn's in the media would be best suited for the assignment.

"I would expect there would be a great deal of skepticism and I had a great deal of skepticism myself," Robson said in response to the assertion. "I was in university when Pat was coaching the Leafs. I know people were unsure of me from the beginning. My goal and my job was to say here is a man, who was greatly respected and loved, and I have a blank slate."

To achieve this goal, Robson set out "to speak to everybody who knew Pat from all different capacities." Close to 100 interviews were conducted in the process. "It was my opportunity to fill in the blanks and not have any preconceived notions and try my best to tell the story through their words."

Robson's first priority was to speak with Carol, Guy and Barry.

"It starts on Glennie Avenue in east end Hamilton," Robson said of Quinn's childhood home. To this day, the house remains in the possession of Pat's sister, Carol. "I remember sitting down with Carol and having coffee all afternoon."

Roaming the rooms where a subject lived as a child can help a writer gain a sense of life back then for the individual. The fact a sibling is supplying commentary during the research is pure gold.

"I walked around the house where Pat and the rest of the Quinn family grew-up and there is so much of the family in there."

Listening to Robson chat about the Quinn family and Hamilton, it was easy to grasp the importance to him of not beginning with the obvious, but digging deeper into Pat's roots.

"Everyone thinks they know Pat from the Leafs, Canucks and Team Canada, but I had the chance to get to know where it all began. Everyone talks about Pat being a loyal man of strong values and I wanted to know where that began."

One value Robson discovered was "the pursuit of excellence that Pat had since he was a boy," a pursuit that followed Quinn into his adulthood. "He worked several jobs and was always trying to better himself. He always tried to push himself further."

Robson told the gathering "the time Quinn spent before making it is one of my favourite parts of his story."

"He was so driven by school while still toiling in the minors. He obviously loved hockey and was travelling from place to place with his family."

Delving into Quinn's history gave Robson an understanding of how he functioned later in life.

"Even after he made it and the Flyers went undefeated in 35 games and he won coach of the year, Pat still wanted to become a lawyer."

One of the fascinating aspects of the book is the exploration of Quinn's relationships with people he met along the way.

"The relationship between Pat and Trevor Linden is one that really moved me," Robson stated. "Their relationship was the most emblematic of what Pat meant to so many other people."

A trip out west in March of this year allowed Robson to meet with Linden in Vancouver and they hooked-up shortly after the Canucks organization held their tribute honouring Quinn.

"We had a long chat about Quinn as his mentor. It wasn't about the X's & O's of hockey, but Pat taking Trevor as a teenage kid, who was just about to play in the NHL, and mentor him to the point of what he became."

The end result of Robson's effort is a 349-page gem documenting Quinn the hockey legend and man.

"It started in late January (2015) and finished up in July," Robson said of the writing timeline, which by any standard is a tight deadline. "The good thing about writing about a guy like Pat Quinn, there is no shortage of people to talk about Pat Quinn. Once you got going, they just kept coming and that's what is so special about Pat Quinn."

The last word went to Pat's brother, Barry Quinn.

"It was a privilege to be Pat's brother," Barry said as he stood to address the crowd. "We were privileged to have the parents we did, my sister Carol, my brother Guy and my brother Phillip, who passed away 24 years ago."

Like his big brother, it was obvious Barry wore his big Irish heart on his sleeve.

"It was tough to lose Pat and we think about him almost everyday, He was a great guy," Barry stated with great deal of pride and a twinge of emotion in his voice.

Then, he turned his attention to Dan Robson.

"We're really glad with the way Dan has put this book together. I'm proud of Pat and I'm proud of Dan. He (Dan) has made our family proud."

There is no better ringing endorsement for Quinn - The Life of a Hockey Legend than the one spoken by Barry Quinn.






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