Quintal racks up assists in Shanahan’s office
Stephane Quintal wasn’t long in a Bruins uniform, playing but 158 of his 1,037 NHL games in the Spoked B, but the smiling Quebec kid was among the most gregarious and refreshingly honest members of the club during his brief tenure on Causeway Street. The Q, as he was known among his teammates here at the start of the 1990s, had a delightful impish charm that made him a favorite among club members, fans, and media.
Not long after playing his final NHL game with the Canadiens in the 2003-04 season, Quintal hooked on with CBC’s sports division, commentating on NHL games. Witty, charming, articulate, handsome, and with a respected playing résumé that included tours in a half-dozen NHL cities, he seemed the perfect fit for the network’s French-speaking TV broadcasts.
“But I didn’t like it,’’ recalled Quintal, speaking the other day by phone from his Montreal home, just around the corner from prestigious McGill University. “I just didn’t like being in the position of having to criticize people all the time. It’s OK for a lot of guys, and some are very, very good at it, you know? But it wasn’t for me.
“I guess I’m just too happy in my life.’’
Now 43 years old, the one-time reliable backliner last month joined the NHL office as part of the player discipline department led by vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan. Quintal is among the small clutch of people Shanahan relies upon, along with ex-backliner Rob Blake and others, to review the sundry sordid plays that get sent to NHL headquarters for review and possible supplemental discipline. Ultimately, if there is a final criticism, be it suspension and/or fine, it’s Shanahan’s to make. (Sherriff Shanny’s explanatory video on nhl.com is must Internet viewing.)
Clearly, the likes of Quintal and Blake are integral to the process, one that has everyone under Shanahan’s watch reviewing tapes of what are often controversial hits and then offering their independent observations. Shanahan, Quintal, and Blake have a combined playing experience of 4,213 games. Chances are, if they are reviewing it, they’ve seen it before, perhaps even played the part of perpetrator. Collectively, they logged 5,984 penalty minutes.
“We all look at the tapes on our own,’’ said Quintal, who splits his time fairly evenly between the league’s Manhattan office and his Montreal home, another advantage of the video age. “Then without talking with each other, we all give Brendan our opinion, what we saw. Then it’s for him to decide.
“So far, it’s been great, I love it. I know there’s still a lot to learn, but I’m up to the challenge.’’
Quintal last played as a pro in Italy (Asiago) during the NHL’s 2004-05 lockout, and didn’t get in uniform again, other than to play a role in the 2005 movie about Maurice Richard, “The Rocket,’’ that was filmed at the old Colisee in Quebec City (once the home of the Nordiques).
He became increasingly drawn to business ventures in and around Montreal, investing in and helping to manage a number of upscale fitness centers and acting as a key promoter when the Champions Tour, featuring aging PGA stars, stops in Montreal.
All along, he figured he would like to return to hockey, but not in the more conventional role of player-turned-coach. When Shanahan began talking to him last spring about a role in his department, Quintal felt it could be an ideal fit.
“We went out to eat and Brendan brought his iPad with him,’’ recalled Quintal, his soon-to-be-boss spicing up their dinner that night in Montreal no doubt with a video montage of two-handers, roughings, and gross misconducts. “He shows me the tapes and says, ‘OK, this is what the job’s about, this is what I do.’ And right away, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is great.’ We watched some of those tapes, I told him what I thought.
“I always wanted to get back in somehow, but I had enough of the hockey life with all the travel. It’s more the business stuff like this that gets me excited.’’
Quintal also aids Shanahan in face-to-face meetings with clubs, like the one here recently with the Bruins, explaining how the hockey operations department functions.
Quintal’s first language is French, a factor that had to be in his favor when Shanahan made the hire. The league’s French-first-speaking players shouldn’t feel they have an ally in Quintal, but they at least will have the comfort of knowing nothing will be lost in translation.
“When we were in Boston, Brendan brought video and did a whole PowerPoint presentation,’’ recalled Quintal. “The guys saw what’s good and what’s not legal. I think it’s good. He wants to be very clear about what he’s doing and just bring a very transparent approach to the whole process.’’
Quintal realizes, too, that it’s a much different game than the one he left less than eight years ago. The red line is gone, most of the obstruction tactics have been stripped out, the speed is dizzying, and some of the hits are frightful.
“The biggest difference I see,’’ offered Quintal, “is that on defense I remember that I could block for a guy. If the puck went into my partner’s corner, I could block the winger who was coming down on him. So, if I can speak as a defenseman, you’re in that corner and here comes this guy running at you at 90 miles an hour. Holy cow! That’s a tough place to be.’’
Probably no tougher than the corner office that Shanahan has carved out these last few months. But he’s clearly getting help from the likes of Blake and Quintal.
HARD LOOK AT PADS
Gear is part of the problem
Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton, understandably a strong advocate of fighting in hockey, greeted me last week with a promise of a full-force beatdown if I didn’t stop promoting the vision of a fight-free NHL. He was only kidding, of course. I’m pretty sure.
“It’s not the fighting, and it’s not the helmet,’’ said Thornton, disputing the suggestion in this space last week that fewer fights and better head protection would aid in diminishing the frightful number of concussions among NHL players. “Guys run into each other, sometimes even from the same teams, and they get hurt. It happens.
“I think you’d see less concussions if everyone wore these . . .’’
With that, the 34-year-old Thornton pointed out his vintage lightweight, flimsy shoulder protection that dangled from a hook in his locker.
No argument from me. If all NHLers chose to wear only token protection on shoulders and elbows, the betting here is that the KOs would drop considerably, perhaps by as much as 50 percent. The granite-like materials used in those pads have transformed articles of protection into instruments of destruction, an issue the league continues to address with the players’ union and the various vendors who produce the pads.
Again, there will not be one fix to the concussion epidemic and it will not be overnight. Concussions are going to happen. That’s the only absolute in the discussion. But someone has to take the lead, and quickly, to curb these brain injuries, which are playing out at all levels of hockey.
After the lockout, Dave Scatchard had a very brief stay in Boston, only 16 games in 2005-06. Today, he is 35 years old and out of the game for good, concussion-like symptoms forcing him to retire over the summer when, he said, an MRI revealed five spots on his brain. He told the Toronto Star recently that he suffers memory problems, gets dizzy when pushing his children on swings, and experiences postconcussion symptoms whenever his heart rate goes above 135 beats per minute.
“When I was a young guy,’’ Scatchard told the Star, “I loved seeing big hits like ‘Don Cherry’s Rock ’em, Sock ’em’ [videos]. Now, every time I see a big hit or see a player lying on the ice, my stomach just turns.’’
New therapy helping coach
A nice bit of news in Nashville, where longtime Predators associate coach Brent Peterson worked out freely on a treadmill recently, to the delight of everyone in the organization. Peterson, 53, once a Hartford Whaler forward, was forced to step away from the bench after last season, his eight-year battle with Parkinson’s Disease making it impossible to continue in a traditional coaching capacity. Finally, last month, he stopped taking most of his medication and underwent a series of surgeries as part of a Deep Brain Stimulation therapy that now includes a pacemaker, implanted near his collarbone, firing signals to his brain that have curbed many of the neurological disease’s debilitating symptoms. “A tough three weeks of surgery,’’ Peterson told The Tennessean’s Mike Organ. But once the pacemaker was activated, the improvement was rapid and astounding. Peterson has dropped his medication from nine pills a day to just two, and reports vast improvement in both his sleeping habits and motor skills. DBS, according to The Tennessean, was first used in Parkinson’s patients in 1997 and was fully approved by the FDA in 2002. Peterson fought the idea of trying the therapy for years, relenting when his wife implored him to.
Sutter driving the bus
Darryl Sutter finally took control of the Los Angeles bench Thursday night when the Kings took on the Ducks in a SoCal square dance at the Staples Center. Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, ex- of Springfield, is banking on Sutter’s Viking brand of vinegar shaking his charges from their LA lethargy. The respected though low-key Terry Murray couldn’t summon enough passion from the bunch and was canned Dec. 12. “After we played poorly [under Murray],’’ the Kings’ Dustin Brown told the Los Angeles Times, “we’d come in and watch video. Whereas, from what I gather, I don’t think we’ll be watching video.’’ Sutters aren’t beyond watching, but they are far more about doing, just “getting after ’er’’, in Sutter parlance. A favorite story from a visit I made years ago to the Sutter farm in Viking, Alberta: The school bus driver on the route to the Sutter home always kept snow shovels aboard to help dislodge the bus from its inevitable forays into snow banks. More than one of the six Sutter boys to make it to the NHL told me that they routinely jumped out to shovel, and while the driver tossed snow out from under one side of the bus, they were busy on the opposite side, heaving snow back under from their side. Now that’s teamwork.
The three guys the Artful Dodger, the pickpocket king of “Oliver Twist,’’ would want with him to work the crowd on New Year’s Eve in Times Square: Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly, Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk, and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews. As the weekend approached, they led the league in puck repossessions (i.e. takeaways), with 51, 45, and 42. O’Reilly, 20, is now in his third NHL season and having a strong year for the Avalanche, who Wednesday night won their seventh straight at the Pepsi Center, a 3-2 edging of St. Louis. It was only the third regulation loss suffered by the Blues since Ken Hitchcock took over their bench at the start of November.
Defense is resting
“We’ve got to start learning how to defend. My goodness, it’s not tough plays that are beating us.’’ That was Bruce Boudreau, coach of the Anaheim Ducks, to the Orange Country Register after the Ducks were bounced, 5-3, Monday night in Dallas. Scary part is, it sounds a lot like what Boudreau had to say for years while he coached the Capitals. The loss to the Stars was the seventh in the nine games Boudreau coached behind the Ducks bench since taking over for the cashiered Randy Carlyle.
Montreal’s listless 5-1 loss in Chicago Wednesday had Habs backliner P.K. Subban lamenting that he let his team down badly in back-to-back losses to the Bruins and Blackhawks. “I know I have to be better,’’ said the 22-year-old. “I know I cost my team two games in a row.’’ Subban may not have helped much (he was minus-4), but overall the Habs are undersized, lacking in grit, and don’t get much pop from their pint-sized forwards. After the loss to the red-hot Hawks, the three-pack of Max Pacioretty, Mike Cammalleri, and Tomas Plekanec - three key forwards in the attack - had a collective 6 goals in a combined 41 games. Subban desperately needs Andrei Markov (knee injury, out all year) to get back in the lineup, and the forwards need a group orienteering primer on how to discover the front of the net, never mind the back of it.
Toews picked up his 20th goal Wednesday night, the fastest any Blackhawk has reached that plateau since Comcast analyst Tony Amonte finished with a career-high 44 strikes in 1998-99. The all-purpose Toews has never had more than the 34 he scored in his sophomore season . . . Ex-Bruin Stephane Quintal and wife Anick have two children, 6-year-old son Kenzo and 8-year-old daughter Gezabel. Gezabel is a swimmer and Kenzo, after two years of figure skating, is just now starting to play hockey. “I wanted him to learn how to skate first,’’ offered dad. “Kids who start with hockey, before they can skate, use the stick as a crutch. I don’t like that. Yeah, they’ll get the skating down eventually, maybe, but I think it’s better to know that first - understand edges and balance and all that.’’ Two other strong advocates of figure skating who had fairly impressive pro hockey careers: Robbie Ftorek and Tom Barrasso . . . Not only are the Canucks playing better (12-3-1 in their last 16 games), but Roberto Luongo had a 7-0-1 streak before losing to Calgary Friday. Someone obviously gifted the big guy with a tire pump for Christmas . . . Sutter’s coaching record in Chicago, San Jose, and Calgary: 409-320-131 in 860 games. That’s short of winning half (430) of those games . . . Best payroll deal of 2011-12: Goalie Brian Elliott, ex- of Ottawa and Colorado, who signed a two-way deal with the Blues that is paying him $600,000. This is not to say he will win the Vezina Trophy, but the former Wisconsin standout is certainly in the mix . . . Some Habs fans, incensed that new coach Randy Cunneyworth doesn’t speak French, intend to hold a “language rally’’ to express concern that their voice isn’t being heard, or some such thing. The rally is set for the hours before the Habs face Tampa Jan. 7, which right now looks like three months to the day before the Habs go home for good, after an April 7 game with Sabres. Oy vey.