ST. PAUL, Minn. – Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville gathered his players in the right faceoff circle during practice Monday at the Xcel Energy Center.
Clearly, this was a lecture rather than a conversation.
It was a mostly calm lecture, but a lecture nonetheless.
“When he screams and yells, sometimes it’s the same stuff,” Hawks winger Bryan Bickell said afterward when I asked about the mid-practice conference. “But when he starts to talk like normal human beings, everybody gets their ears open and we listen.
“He’s our leader. He puts us together to make us the best.”
The Hawks are in good hands with their gruff, occasionally normal-human-being coach.
Another hostile crowd and the same hungry opponent will greet the Hawks when they take the ice against the Minnesota Wild for Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinals. The Hawks lead the series, 2-1, and need to win to maintain their advantage instead of slipping into a 2-2 stalemate.
So far, the series has shown that the Hawks are more talented but the Wild are more truculent. Although the Hawks have outshot the Wild by 20, the Wild have outhit the Hawks by 25.
That’s why Quenneville called his players together in a corner of the ice for his State of the Hawks address. His talking points were clear based on his pointed comments to reporters after practice.
“I’d like to see a very intense team,” Quenneville said. “I think if you watch other playoff series, you can see it, whether it’s the animosity, the hatred, the battles. It’s playoff hockey.
“That’s the level we’ve got to get to.”
It’s tough to imagine anyone better suited than Quenneville to push the Hawks to that level.
One week from Friday, the NHL will announce its three finalists for the annual Jack Adams Award, which is given to the league’s top coach. Quenneville, who won the award as the St. Louis Blues coach during the 1999-2000 season, deserves to become a two-time winner based on his work this season.
The Hawks arrived to training camp with plenty of ability, but Quenneville molded the group into a regular-season superpower. As a coach, he has a hands-on style without being a micromanager, which has earned the respect of his veteran locker room.
During a sluggish Game 3, Quenneville tinkered with his top lines by pairing Kane with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp in the third period. On Monday, Quenneville returned to status quo, pairing Kane with Sharp and Michael Handzus, while Toews centered Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa.
Hawks players were not surprised to return to their previous line combinations. It was a sign of patience and respect from Quenneville, although that quickly could change with another playoff dud.
“This year, there hasn’t been too much change in the lines unless there have been injuries,” Kane said. “He’s kept everything pretty much the same.
“It’s a little bit different when you get down a goal or you’re trying to catch up. Usually, he’ll put some different players together to maybe create a spark.
“I think that’s something he knows how to do. He’s coached a lot of games in the league.”
Only five coaches in NHL history have won more regular-season games than Quenneville, who has a remarkable record of 660-389-77-85 (the third number is from the days when games ended in ties). Those ahead of Quenneville are Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour, Dick Irvin, Pat Quinn and Mike Keenan, all of whom coached for at least 20 years and the first three of whom are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In the playoffs, Quenneville also has proved to be a winner.
Entering today, the Hawks’ coach has 74 career playoff wins, which is No. 8 all time. He needs four more wins to surpass Pat Burns and nine more wins to surpass Toe Blake, another Hall of Famer.
All of those numbers add up to one big fact for Hawks players.
If you want a W, put your trust in Q.
In other words, keep your mouth closed and your ears open.
“When he says something, you listen,” Hawks center Marcus Kruger said after Quenneville’s lecture. “That was something we had to hear.”
• Shaw Media sports
columnist Tom Musick
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