When former managerial duo, John Davidson and Jeff Gorton, were abruptly dismissed before the third-to-last game of last season, David Quinn knew his days as the Rangers’ head coach were numbered.
He was not surprised when new president and general manager Chris Drury finished cleaning house and let him go a week after the initial firings and four days after the season ended. However, there wasn’t much time to dwell on it.
Just as his first NHL head-coaching gig came to an end, Quinn was quickly presented with another opportunity — one that not only has sentimental significance, but could help him land his next chance in professional hockey.
Last summer, USA Hockey asked Quinn to be an assistant on Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan’s staff at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. But in discussing the possibility of the NHL pulling its players in the same conversation, Quinn was also asked if he would step in as head coach should that come to fruition, to which the 55-year-old said “absolutely.”
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Since he knew there was a good chance of that happening, which the NHL did at the end of December, Quinn said there wasn’t exactly a moment when he realized he was officially in charge of the storied USA hockey team.
The magnitude of the opportunity, however, seemed to hit him right away. Plus, it means just a little bit more in wake of his first job as an NHL head coach coming to an end.
“It does [have added significance], it feels good,” Quinn told The Post in a recent phone interview. “Obviously, I missed it a lot over the last eight months. It was pretty, pretty good to get back on the ice the other day and coach a hockey team and be around a team and your coaches and the staff.
“It’s something I missed a lot, there’s a real hole in your life. I’m just grateful for this opportunity, that’s for sure.”
Around the second week of December, Quinn and Team USA general manager John Vanbiesbrouck began preparing for the Games without NHL players. The team had its first practice on Jan. 31 and made the 18-hour journey to Beijing a couple days later. Their first preliminary game is against China on Thursday.
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Quinn will get to live the Olympic dream he was robbed of back in 1987, when he learned he was a hemophiliac and as a result, at age 20, he could never play hockey again. Despite not getting to play at the 1988 Calgary Games, Quinn agreed that coaching in Beijing somewhat fills that void.
That experience also helps the former Boston University coach relate to his players, who are coming from the NCAA, the American Hockey League, Kontinental Hockey League and Swedish Hockey League. Although, after 15 seasons of coaching in some capacity at the college level, Quinn is seemingly back in his element.
The most notable difference between college and the NHL, according to Quinn, was the disparities in the role. After feeling like the owner, president general manager and coach at BU, Quinn quickly realized how much goes on above him in an NHL front office. Learning how to manage and understand it with the Rangers took some time.
As for the actual coaching part, Quinn didn’t feel like there was a major difference because he was prepared to make the jump.
“I never looked at it as an adjustment, really,” he said. “I don’t say that to belittle the transition, I just felt I was ready for it. I thought that all of my coaching experience along the way prepared me for it. I just never felt that way. I never thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m coaching in the NHL.’ I just never felt that.
“You’ve got to coach to your personality, you got to be true to yourself and I felt very good about the job we did for a long time. There were instances I wish I had done things differently, that’s for sure.”
In reflecting on his three seasons behind the Rangers’ bench, when he compiled a 96-87-25 record, Quinn acknowledged that he made mistakes — especially in his last year. While he declined to elaborate on the specifics of his regrets, one can assume that the apparent disconnect between the coach and the Rangers’ marquee forwards would be one of them.
It was apparent the Rangers needed a new voice in the locker room. But that’s not to say that Quinn didn’t help the organization get to where it is today, sitting in playoff position over halfway through the season. He had the development touch that was needed during a rebuilding period, and Quinn was proud of how he and his coaching staff handled that.
“I just thought during a time where we were in a rebuild and it was — listen, it’s always about winning — but everybody understood the situation we were in,” said Quinn, who was a candidate to be the first coach of the Kraken before the expansion team went with Dave Hakstol. “That was not an easy situation. You’ve got an organization to answer to because we’re rebuilding and we want to win. But I was proud of the fact that we were very competitive.”
Still, Quinn mentioned a few times his firm belief in growing within the jobs you’re in.
“My experience last year certainly made me a better coach,” he said.
A new chance to grow is already here, and the stage is somehow bigger than that of Madison Square Garden. Three decades since a rare blood disorder prematurely ended his playing days and just a few months since his last head-coaching gig, Quinn is entering a new chapter of his hockey career.
It could easily serve as a springboard to his next opportunity.
“That would be a nice perk from doing well in the Olympics,” Quinn said when asked about using the Olympics as a showcase to potential future employers. “But I’m just so humbled and honored to be coaching the Olympic team. It’s a life-changing opportunity for all of us. And I was just excited to get back on the ice coaching the other day.”