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In memory of Pat Quinn: His take on his famous Bobby Orr hit

Pat Quinn, who died Sunday at 71, was a great NHL coach as well as a defenseman who laid a hit on Bobby Orr that may be hockey's most famous.

Most folks who are hearing of the passing of Pat Quinn today will remember him as one of the best ever to coach the game.

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Quinn, gone too soon at 71, spent parts of 20 seasons behind the bench in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto and Edmonton, and while he never won a Stanley Cup, he was twice named the NHL’s top coach (with the Flyers in 1980, and with the Canucks in ’92).

He's also the only man to lead Canada to gold medals in the Olympics, the World Championships, the World Juniors and the World Under-18s.

Not a bad resume. But what I’ll remember most about Quinn is that he was a larger-than-life figure: gregarious, intimidating, full of bluster and a terrific story teller. I'd heard he could make life rough on writers, but he could also be incredibly charming and gracious as well.

An example: I caught up with him on one occasion several years back to talk international hockey. He was honest, insightful and very generous, going well past the time he’d allotted for the interview. But even when I had everything I needed for the piece there was still one more thing I wanted to ask him about.

The Bobby Orr hit.

I was pushing my luck. I fully expected him to beg off, either because of another engagement or because, after 30-plus years, he was sick of talking about it.

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Instead, he gave a big laugh.

“It was all shoulder,” he said, anticipating the question. “Clean as a whistle.”

That's a point of some debate, particularly if there's a Bruins fan involved in the discussion. But what everyone can agree on is that Quinn, once upon a time a hard-rock defenseman, delivered one of the most devastating hits in NHL history on April 2, 1969 ... and maybe the most famous.

It was the opener of the playoffs, and Quinn’s Maple Leafs were being dismantled by Boston. The Bruins had already built up a 6–0 lead, setting tensions on edge, when Orr picked up the puck behind his own net in the final moments of the second period and rolled out on the right side. He dashed past one forechecker and angled toward the boards to break out of the zone when he did something completely out of character: He put his head down.

Hovering at the blue line, Quinn spied his opportunity. The two had fought a pretty decent bout in their previous meeting, and the Toronto blueliner wasn't about to let Orr blow by without a reminder. Quinn drew a bead, closed in and viciously laid Orr out, knocking him unconscious.

Today, a high hit like that might get Quinn a five-game suspension. Back then? It was five minutes for elbowing ... but honestly, if his target had been anyone but Orr it probably would have been shrugged off as good, hard hockey.

“That one caused quite a ruckus,” Quinn said. “You were taking your life into your own hands when you hit Bobby. The fans didn't like it. The Bruins didn't like it. But that one felt good. It was a good hit.”

He went on to say that while he and Orr had a “few skirmishes over the years,” they eventually became friends after their playing days were over. “I had tremendous respect for him,” Quinn said. “I always say he was the best who ever played the game.”

"He didn't give you many chances to get a piece of him. We've talked about it several times since. He doesn't necessarily agree with my version of events but we've laughed about it. You know, we were both going hard. It was just part of the game back then.”

Later, when Quinn shook my hand, I got a real sense of how hard that hit must have been.

A good player, a great coach and an even better man. Rest in peace, Pat.