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Chicago Blackhawks Coach Joel Quennenville

Interview by Scott Jonlich

Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville (“Coach Q”) sat down with Hinsdale Magazine to discuss the upcoming hockey season, and how his team meets the challenges and expectations of repeating the success of three Stanley Cup titles. On Oct. 5, Coach Q will be on a discussion panel about the impact of the sports business on Chicago, and specifically how injuries can affect the sport. Honest and low-key, Quenneville deflects much of his success to his supporting cast of trainers, players and to the overall structure of the entire organization—not surprising to hear from the second-most-winningest coach in NHL history. His familiar, white-mustached image is burned into our memory, alongside other legendary Chicago coaches like Mike Ditka, George Halas and Phil Jackson. Coach Q is in an elite class, along with Halas and Jackson, as the only Chicago coaches in history to win at least three championships, and now only trails the legendary Scotty Bowman (1,244 wins) as the NHL’s all-time wins leader. The Canadian-born athlete from Windsor, Ontario, is a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame, and now resides in Hinsdale with his wife, Elizabeth, and their three kids. 
Thanks for taking the time to meet with
Hinsdale Magazine, coach. As you prepare for the new season,
you will be on a panel discussion called the Chicago Sports Summit on Oct. 5, and you will be talking about injuries affecting players. Could you tell us about that?
Injuries play a big part of winning. During our playoff runs, it’s amazing how much injuries play an important part. It’s important to keep your key guys fresh and healthy. In 2015, [Shea] Weber, in the first round, he gets hurt, and Nashville missed him and his leadership. So, you’ve got to get breaks on both sides. The next round, we beat Minnesota, and we never trailed in that series. Anaheim was probably the toughest, physical, grueling [series], and we were able to stay healthy, despite how taxing that series was, and that was a big factor for us [winning]. The next series against Tampa Bay, we got breaks—they lost [Tyler] Johnson, who broke his wrist in the first game. He still played, but did not play with the same effectiveness. Then, [goaltender Ben] Bishop gets hurt; [Nikita] Kucherov gets hurt—three of their top guys [not at their physical best] really helped us win. It’s not the biggest reason, but it’s huge at the end of the day. And that’s just the playoffs—you have to be healthy for 82 games [during the regular season too].
Injuries play a big part of any professional sport—especially in hockey, with so much physicality. How important is it for a coach to be in-tune with your trainer and your communication with your staff and players? How do you manage that so at the end of the season, you get to that point when you are running on all cylinders?
Well, we have a great relationship. We love our medical staff—Mike Gapski (head trainer), Jeff Thomas (assistant trainer) and the staff. We are the only team in the league that in the last six or seven years, or maybe in the last
year or so, that travels with a full-time doctor on the road. That is very complimentary to the training staff. The [doctors] have a good pulse on the players, and keep us informed. The players will come to them, and we will talk to the players so that we will never put our players in danger. If they are not cleared to play, we won’t put them on the ice. There are different battles when we are in playoff games, and we have to be [making] the right decision. There’s a whole new protocol now with concussions, and how that’s going to play a part in different rules.
How do you think the NHL is handling the concussion concerns?
I think our league is doing a good job as far as being proactive in the [concussion] area, as far as recognizing blows to the head— how you identify what is a concussion; what is the protocol if there is a concussion during a game when suffering a hit to the head; identifying it from different places—on the ice, from the coach’s box and the video room— and then procedurally getting tested at the beginning of the year and in that moment. To
me at the end of the day, it’s about respect and awareness about your fellow players. The amount of fighting has come down over the years. The hitting is fine—we love the hitting part, but just be respectful to that [head] area. We have to recognize when a player is vulnerable, and letting up is sometimes more important than getting that hit, and that is progression [we’re making as a league]. We all want to win and have success, but let’s respect that part of the game.
I know this may be an unfair question, but what kind of “sports town” do you think Hinsdale is?
All I know since we have been here,  hockey has been fun. I’m going to say out here, you have [the] Sox, Cubs—definitely Bears. The Bulls and Hawks have been a part of it. The Bears are going to be tough, but I think the Hawks have done pretty well here. We get [the support] everywhere in Chicago, but the Hinsdaleans love the Hawks, and [are] passionate about [them].
You have been gracious in sharing the success and the Stanley Cup in the Fourth of July parade and around town over the years, so the locals know about some of your favorite places. Are there any favorite places you like to go?
Oh, wow. We like going to the sushi place— Nabuki. We like Fuller [House], the York [Tavern]. We go to GiGi’s (Capri Restaurant in Burr Ridge). We love going to Page’s [Restaurant] for breakfast in the morning—Page’s for sure.
Tell me about the Hawks organization. How does it compare to other NHL clubs, and do you think you would have this type of success with another organization?
Well, I give Rocky [Wirtz] a ton of credit—and John McDonough. They did things differently than their predecessors, and I think implementing that everything is done first-class. Do the best you can in all areas—stay at the nicest hotels—bringing a doctor on the road. The players recognize the little things—the practice facility, new locker rooms—they appreciate the attention to details. Everyone has input, and we exchange ideas at all levels, and we have a lot of support coming from above and [that goes] both ways. The one area we feel very fortunate about is the medical staff and the preparation—[our] strength coach, massage therapist, the attention to detail in the health area and injury prevention. When I started playing [with the Hartford Whalers], we just had a medical trainer, and now we have six, seven or eight
guys in that [injury prevention] area.
With all of your success, how do you keep your team and players hungry, and keep them going at that championship pace?
It’s a great question, Scott. As a coach, every year, you have to find different mechanisms to get your team excited. This team—we are fortunate as a coaching staff that we have some of the best leaders. They are so motivated and driven—they want to win. They want to be the best they can [be]. We have a tremendous captain and leader [in Jonathan Toews]. I just watch how (Patrick Kane) Kaner makes people better every time he steps on to the ice. Johnny [Toews] is about [being] the best, and [winning] at all costs. He finds a way to make everybody around him better. These guys have the taste and experience the thrill of winning, being in the parade and sharing the Cup with Chicago—having that feeling, and can’t wait to do it again. That’s the biggest motivator. These guys lead the charge, and it’s easy to extend that message when they have the desire to get to that playoff run again.
What’s your outlook on the 2016-2017 season?
We’re excited to getting Brian [Campbell] back here. He’s going to help us with experience and leadership. He’s played well the last few years, and he’s going to help us. He’s happy to be back with the organization. We’re going to have some new, fresh, young players who will learn and grow with us. We’re putting some nice pieces together, and the young guys will get better as the season goes on.
You, like so many professional players and coaches, at the end of the day come home to a family. How do you balance family with a demanding career?
Good question. My wife (Elizabeth) says, when hockey season’s on, I’m not there when I come home—even though I’m home! Everything is great. The kids are great. We’re empty nesters for a year now. My son graduates, so he’s back here working in Chicago. They’re all here right now for the summer, and it’s fun. When I’m home, we try to get away from the game a bit. When the season is on, I’m watching a lot of hockey. I think you have to park it sometimes, but when the season starts, she says I have my hockey face on but she knows that’s just the way I am. I tried to find a balance, and we have fun away from the game, and we don’t always have to talk hockey. I think we do a good job being away from hockey and being a family and being as normal as we can.

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