Saturday, March 24, 2012

Joel Quenneville: 4 Autographed Cards

I sent Joel Quenneville these 4 cards and a fan letter on January 27th, 2012, and got them back, signed in thin blue sharpie on March 19th, 2012. When I wrote him, Quenneville's Chicago Blackhawks (he's the head coach) were on a steady drop but have since regained form, winning 8 of their last 10 games, one of the losses coming into overtime, thus benefiting from the Seb Hell Bump.

He was born on September 15th - a day after me... in he same year my mom was born, 1958. Drafted 21st overall (in the second round) in the 1978 draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, he went on to play with the Colorado Rockies, New Jersey Devils, Hartford Whalers and Washington Capitals, but he spent most of my childhood (1983-1990) with the Whalers. He was a tough, puck-moving defenseman who racked up 705 penalty minutes in 803 NHL games to go with his 54 goals and 136 assists.

But that's only half his story: his major accomplishments lie in the coaching department. As an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche, he has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup for the magical 1995-96 win. As a head coach, he led to St. Louis Blues to 7 straight playoff berths, before getting fired during the 2003-04 season, during which he was still 29-23-7-2, good for 67 points in 61 games. He won the Jack Adams trophy for the 1999-2000 season.

He then coached the Avalanche for three seasons, after which he became a scout for the Blackhawks. As soon as his deal was signed, everyone knew it was a matter of time before he took the head coaching job there, and it took only 4 games for the Hawks to replace their legendary captain of the 80s, Denis Savard, with Quenneville at the beginning of the 2008-09 season, where he took them to the Conference Finals. The next year, they won the Cup.

With Kevin Dineen (Florida Panthers), Randy Cunneyworth (Montréal Canadiens), and Dave Tippett (Phoenix Coyotes), he is one of 4 current NHL coaches who has played with the Whalers, which is more than 13% of NHL head coaches. Factor in the assistant coaches (such as Randy Ladouceur in Montréal and Sean Burke and Ulf Samuelsson in Phoenix), and the numbers become astounding. They may not have won championships, but they knew about the game, that's for sure.

Now onto the cards:
These cards show the early-80s Whalers green (away) uniform, which included a whale on the shoulders, dating back to the team's WHA roots. The card on the right is from Topps' 1986-87 O-Pee-Chee set (card #118), showing Quenneville getting ready for a face-off, but the card on the left is really an OPC staple, from the 1983-84 O-Pee-Chee set (card #145): if you look closely, many things on the jersey and helmet look off... that's because he'd spent the previous season with the Rockies and didn't have a picture in the Whalers' uniform yet, so OPC, in all its wisdom, decided to airbrush (paint) a uniform on an existing picture. That's why the W look eerie.
From Topps' 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee set (card #77), a rare card featuring the Whalers' white (home) jersey of the early-80s. Back then, the NHL didn't have an exclusivity deal with Getty Images to own all pictures taken in amphitheaters as it does now, so card companies had to hire their own photographers to get material for their products, as they mostly hired guys who stayed around the New York area (where 3 teams call home) and, occasionally, Washington, D.C., which meant very few teams got to be featured in their home (white) jerseys. And very few photographers ventured outside the East Coast's major cities to come to Toronto, Detroit, Los Angeles or Montréal - let alone small towns like Hartford and Québec.
This is the Whalers as I remember them the best - the same green jersey, but without the whale on the shoulders, from Topps' 1988-89 O-Pee-Chee set (card #3). Like all the head coaches I mentioned previously who have played for the team, Quenneville sports the assistant captain's 'A' in this one. Captain Ron Francis has so far declined to take the head coaching job twice for the Carolina Hurricanes, opting for assistant coach and assistant-GM instead.

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