Former Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville returned to the United Center Tuesday for the first time since being fired by the team he won three Stanley Cups with, and it served as a reminder of what the club was able to accomplish while the future Hall of Famer was behind the bench.
“It was a good feeling seeing everyone, and seeing some of the players and the fans,” he said. “It brings back a special time in our lives, a special time for the city. We went through some amazing runs and so many people shared it and so many people played a part in it. We were very fortunate to have that career in Chicago and share it with a lot of people.”
Quenneville was hired by the Blackhawks just five games into the 2008-09 season, and he quickly made an impact on the team, leading the squad to the Western Conference Final. The following year the team snapped a 49-year Stanley Cup drought, winning the title in six games over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Those types of memories were on Quenneville’s mind as he walked back into the United Center.
“The best memories are the runs we had,” he said. “There was a pivotal game in every series that was a turning point that got us through it, and those things stand out. You think of Kaner scoring and you don’t know where the puck is. You think of the parades. The memories of guys finding ways to win key games are the biggest.”
Quenneville will be behind the opposite bench on Tuesday night, guiding the Florida Panthers as they try to get into the postseason in the Eastern Conference. The coach took over the job during the offseason after being fired in the fall of 2018 by the Blackhawks, and although it took him several months to agree to a new challenge, he says the time away from the game was critical for him in hitting the reset button.
“I’m not getting any younger,” he said. “We just got away from the game. It wasn’t a bad thing, staying away. It was fun getting back into it, and as the season progressed, you get a taste of this playoff-type hockey right now and you enjoy it.”
Quenneville is expected to be honored with a tribute video during the game, and although he said he’s focused on the task at hand, he’ll allow himself, at least a moment, to reflect on what the city, the team and its fans, meant to him over a decade-long run.
“This is different. This is something different that we accomplished,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll capture this moment and have a good recollection of how things went.”