Having already blown out 66 candles on his birthday cake, Pat Quinn wasn’t the first choice of a lot of fans to replace Craig MacTavish after he was shown the door last spring, but here he is.
When the Edmonton Oilers open their 2009 training camp at Rexall Place Sunday morning, Quinn, associate coach Tom Renney and assistant Kelly Buchberger will be running the show.
There is no place Quinn, who last coached in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2005-06, would rather be. What’s he supposed to do, shuffle off into the sunset and play Twister with his buddies at the Old Coaches Hockey Home?
“I found out being away, it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” Quinn said after the Oilers took their medicals and went through physical testing at Rexall Place Saturday. “I’ve said this before. I’ve had 40 years in the business with only a couple of years off to go to law school.
“I found out the last couple of years I didn’t like it. I missed the day-to-day. I don’t feel old enough to have to run down to Palm Springs and sit there with Slats and all those other guys.”
Quinn has 657 career wins on his resume. He coached his first NHL game, 1978-79 with Philadelphia, before all but eight of the players on the Oilers training camp roster were even born.
“I love enthusiasm,” Quinn said. “I always feel like I’m and up sort of guy and look for the good things and try to coach that way. I’m going to be as positive as I can with this group.”
In Quinn’s final season with the Maple Leafs, Sam Gagner was a 16-year-old rookie with the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL. That same season marked the Oilers roll to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final against Carolina. How many players are left from that team? Seven.
Suffice to say, Quinn won’t be able to put names to all the faces when camp opens, but it likely won’t take him long to figure out where everybody fits — or doesn’t.
“Almost like a hockey school,” smiled Quinn when asked how he intends to get to know who’s who. “I’m going to ask them to put tape on their helmets, maybe.”
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR
Unlike some fans, Shawn Horcoff isn’t concerned GM Steve Tambellini didn’t make many roster changes from the team that faded badly down the stretch last season to finish 11th at 38-35-9.
Outside of the addition of Nikolai Khabibulin and Mike Comrie and the departures of Ales Kotalik, Dwayne Roloson and Kyle Brodziak, it’s pretty much status quo.
“The fact they didn’t make that many changes, I think, is a good thing,” Horcoff said. “I think we can really make things happen here.
“There’s a lot of individuals who want to come back and get better. If that’s the case, we should be able to. I think that’s what you see when you talk about the mentality right now. You see a lot of guys serious about this season. That’s what new coaching brings. Everyone is on their toes a bit. You have to make a good first impression.”
A lot of fans were fooled by a great finish to the 2007-08 season, thinking the Oilers would be gang-busters last season. Horcoff says the reverse applies to last season — the team folded late and missed the post-season, but that, in his mind, is misleading.
“There was a lot of negativity the way our season ended last year,” Horcoff said. “I think what people need to realize is with 10 games to go we were four points up on ninth spot.
“It’s not like we were that far away. We just finished crappy. We didn’t finish the way we needed to. We didn’t play the way we needed to play to make the playoffs.”
Dustin Penner doesn’t sound too troubled about being shipped to the Ottawa Senators with Andrew Cogliano and Ladislav Smid in the trade-that-wasn’t when Dany Heatley declined to waive his no-movement clause.
“I’m excited I’m still here,” Penner said. “I don’t try to think too much, play the what-if? game as much as you probably do.”
A lot of people think Penner might flourish under Quinn and Renney after spending much of last season in MacTavish’s doghouse, an ongoing battle of wills that eventually contributed to MacTavish losing the dressing room because of his handling of Penner.
“We had our differences,” Penner said. “I don’t want to say my play is based solely on one person’s ability to curtail it. For me, it’s got to come from within. It’s a fresh start for me.”
WHAT’S MY LINE?
Patrick O’Sullivan will get the first crack at playing alongside Horcoff and Ales Hemsky when camp opens as the threesome is pencilled in together on Team A.
Also on Team A, Rob Schremp is slotted at centre between Ryan Stone and Charles Linglet.
Other combinations of note include Penner playing with Gagner and Jordan Eberle on Team B, while Ethan Moreau and Fernando Pisani will flank Cogliano and Gilbert Brule will center Robert Nilsson and Chris Minard with Team C. Mike Comrie opens between tough guy Kip Brennan and Jamie Bates with Team B.
Defensive pairings of note are Souray-Visnovsky, Grebeshkov-Gilbert, Smid-Staios and Johan Motin with Jason Strudwick.
THIS AND THAT
— Comrie will be wearing No. 91 Sunday, but expect him to don No. 39 when the season begins.
Comrie, who wore No. 39 at college and in the WHL with Kootenay, won’t be putting the arm on Gagner to get his old No. 89 back. Comrie wore 39 because he was a big fan of Doug Weight and he’s already put a call into Weight asking if it’s OK if he wears the number again.
— With a heavy pre-season slate that begins Tuesday against the Calgary Flames, Quinn indicated Saturday he’ll keep as many bodies as possible around and likely won’t make any cuts until after Wednesday’s game against the New York Islanders.
— The Oilers won’t be contesting the Joey Moss Cup at this camp.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.