After the first practice since the Blackhawks unceremoniously fired coach Joel Quenneville on Tuesday, the dressing room was somber. Players sat at their lockers with their heads bowed down.
“You can go on and on with stories that you had, not all of them are shareable here in front of the camera,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “We’ve had some pretty crazy highs and you remember all the good stuff, so it’s tough to see a coach and a friend like Joel go.”
Players were shocked when they first heard the news that Quenneville, the second-winningest coach in NHL history, was let go.
But while the Hawks’ front office pointed the finger at Quenneville for the team’s recent mishaps, players only blamed themselves.
Patrick Kane and Toews — along with several other veterans — said they felt partially responsible for what happened. And Kane went so far as to call Quenneville the “fall guy” for the team missing the playoffs last season and going 0-5-1 over the last six games.
“When I first heard the news, I’m just kind of thinking I wish I wasn’t sick in Vancouver or I wish I maybe felt better on the road trip I could have played better and then maybe something like this doesn’t happen,” Kane said. “Just thoughts running through your head.”
Said Toews: “As players in the locker room, you take responsibilities, but at the end of the day … those decisions are above your head and I guess at the end of the day you have to respect them and you have to acknowledge them and move on with the decisions that have been made.”
Despite his outwardly intense nature and often terse public comments, Quenneville proved to be a players’ coach who commanded and received respect from everyone around him.
“The guy breeds winning,” Kane said. “The one thing that just sticks out is his passion and his excitement to try and win hockey games, so that will definitely be a void that we’ll try to fill in here.”
General manager Stan Bowman, team president John McDonough and chairman Rocky Wirtz parroted one another in statements, calling the decision “difficult.”
But while the front office believes the move to fire Quenneville, who went 452-249-96 over the last 11 seasons with the Hawks, was in the “best interests of the Blackhawks organization” moving forward, the stunning news sent a shockwave through the Hawks’ community.
“It was definitely a shock,” Toews said. “I didn’t think whoever it was, there was going to be a change or it wouldn’t be for a while. Given what we’ve gone through last year, I think it’s still early in the season to try and find solutions and see if we try to change the way things have been going these last five games. So it’s not easy, but we’ve got to go forward the best we can an make the right adjustments.”
The Hawks replaced Quenneville with Rockford IceHogs coach Jeremy Colliton. Last season, Colliton led Rockford to its first-ever AHL Western Conference Finals appearance.
At 33, Colliton is the youngest current NHL coach and is younger than four of the players on the team’s roster.
Kane seemed optimistic that the team would keep an open mind when it comes to welcoming their new coach. But asked if the Hawks’ problems are fixable, Kane seemed unsure.
“Yeah, I think so. I don’t know,” Kane said. “As players you just have an open mind to everything and hopefully we can be better as players too. I don’t know if it was really a system thing or anything like that. We didn’t really get the job done and [Quenneville] has to be fall guy for it.
“Time will tell.”
Here’s a look at other responses from former players and others.
Daniel Carcillo says Quenneville ‘deserved better’
#Quenneville deserves better. A mans man.— Daniel Carcillo (@CarBombBoom13) November 6, 2018
He was the most respected coach amongst players that I’d ever played for.
If this desperate move doesn’t help the @NHLBlackhawks Hockey Operations ppl will begin to be relieved of their duties next.#Blackhawks
The firing of #Quenneville is nothing more than John McDonough, Stan Bowman & Al MacIsaac’s (Hockey Operations) desperate attempt to save their jobs.— Daniel Carcillo (@CarBombBoom13) November 6, 2018
There has always been tension between Joel & the above men mentioned.
Barry Smith is best friends with Scotty Bowman #Blackhawks
Former Hawks forward Vinnie Hinostroza on new coach Colliton
Asked Vinnie Hinostroza about Jeremy Colliton getting the nod in Chicago. “Great guy... knows how to get different things from different players and talk with the younger guys.” Said he helped him get his game back to where it should be after being sent down last year.— Catherine Silverman (@catmsilverman) November 6, 2018
Other reactions to Quenneville’s firing from the hockey community
THINK: Quenneville ends up in Florida with Dale.— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) November 6, 2018
WANT: Quenneville ends up with his Hockey Canada buddies and McDavid in Edmonton.
NEED: Terry Pegula gives Quenneville double Babcock's Leafs salary after being spurned by him, setting up rivalry for the ages in the coming years.