David Quinn walked into the office of Boston University coach Jack Parker in the summer of 1987 and received news that destroyed his Olympic dream.
Quinn learned he had hemophilia and was told his hockey career was over.
“It was a blow,” said Quinn, now 55. “It was devastating in so many ways, it was life changing. People have endured a lot worse than me in life, that’s for sure, but at 20 it’s still a tough pill to swallow.
More than three decades after the rare blood disease kept him out of the 1988 Games in Calgary, Quinn gets a second Olympic chance as United States coach in Beijing. It’s also a different kind of chance for Quinn to return to coaching after being fired last summer by the New York Rangers after three seasons of rebuilding.
“I really think Quinny can be a great coach in the NHL,” said veteran defenseman Brendan Smith, who played for him for three years in New York. “The situation he was put in was an unwinnable situation, really, and I’m thrilled he’s going there. I think he’ll do a really good job.”
Much of Quinn’s coaching philosophy stems from his playing career and the diagnosis that took him away. He was Minnesota’s first-round pick in 1984, played on the 1986 World Junior Team that won the first US medal in tournament history, and was a top college defenseman with legitimate pro prospects.
A handful of injuries that were all blood related prompted Quinn to get tested. Knowing how bright Quinn’s future was, his BU teammate and now US Olympic assistant Scott Young said of the abrupt end: “No one saw it coming. It was just a shock to everyone.
“After throwing a pity party for yourself, I think you’re trying to figure out what’s next,” Quinn said. He reflected on how Parker and former coaches like Ben Smith, Larry Pietila and Peter Bragdon were such a big part of his support system at a difficult time. He wanted to follow the same path to stay in hockey.
Quinn tried another 79 underage games in the early 90s thanks to a barrage of new drugs and tried unsuccessfully to make the Olympic team in 1992. With his playing career definitely over, he became an assistant at Northeastern in 1993 before moving to Nebraska-Omaha and returning to BU.
Three years as an American Hockey League coach and one as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche brought him back to BU as a coach for five seasons before getting the job with the Rangers in 2018.
New York had embarked on a full-scale rebuild before hiring Quinn, who was considered one of the sport’s up-and-coming coaches. He coached there for three seasons until the Rangers cleaned up, dropping chairman John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton. The new head of hockey operations, Chris Drury, fired Quinn last summer.
“New York has sent a letter saying they’re going to bring the young guys with them, and at all costs,” said Smith, who is now with Carolina. “It gets very difficult, especially in the team dynamics, because the younger guys can get away with making mistakes and the older guys can’t and the older guys get punished and then you do a split. of the hall and a division of coaches.”
Even through it, Smith and others praised Quinn for handling the situation as best he could through clear and consistent communication. The ability to deliver messages is considered one of his greatest strengths ahead of the Olympics with a roster of 15 college and 10 professional players.
“He understands pretty well where the older guys are coming from, but also as a young player playing in New York, I felt comfortable talking with him in a one-on-one conversation,” said defenseman Neal Pionk, who played for Quinn in 2018-19 is now with Winnipeg. “We had a lot of young guys in New York, so he made sure that was a point that young guys could come up to him and have a conversation without hesitation.”
There’s not much hesitation about Quinn, who went straight to work for USA Hockey, first as Mike Sullivan’s Olympic staff assistant before the NHL pulled out and pushed him into this role. Quinn visited a few training camps to observe and talk to other coaches, watched numerous match films for scouting purposes – and couldn’t sit still.
“He’s constantly trying to figure out how to improve, and he’ll continue to do that,” said Davidson, now Columbus’ president of hockey operations. “He doesn’t sit still and let the moss grow under his feet. He is a starter in a very good way.
Gorton, who now runs the Montreal front office, said coaching Team USA is a perfect situation.
“He is a very good hockey coach. He will eventually find another job,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for him to get on a big stage and show what he can do.”
It could be as soon as next season, depending on how America plays and the coaching carousel around the NHL. But Quinn is too busy preparing to live out her long-held Olympic dream to care.
“Anything that comes from a gold medal, I take it,” he said. “No matter what, I’ll live with it and embrace it.”