If all had gone according to plan, David Quinn would have arrived at the Olympics decades earlier. But the US men’s hockey coach, who is prepping his team for a run in Beijing this month, endured twists and turns on his journey unlike any other.
Quinn had hoped to skate for Team USA at the Calgary Olympics in 1988. But the plan was altered in the summer of 1987.
A Cranston, R.I. native, Quinn was selected by the Minnesota North Stars with the 13th pick in the first round of the 1984 NHL draft. He elected to enroll at Boston University after a standout career at the Kent School in Connecticut. He excelled on the ice for the Terriers, and was elected captain the spring before his senior year.
“He was a fabulous skater, strong on his skates, good stamina. He could play a lot of minutes,” said legendary BU coach Jack Parker. “Just a real solid, stay-at-home physical defenseman that would have a long career in the NHL I believe because of his skating ability and his size and his tenacity.”
But Quinn would sometimes be slowed down by injuries, assorted bumps and bruises that lingered longer than those his teammates suffered, so much so that Dr. Robert Leach scheduled him for blood tests after his sophomore season in 1986.
The Terriers had just been eliminated in the NCAA tournament, and the North Stars were hoping to lure him to the NHL for the playoffs. But Quinn wanted to maintain his amateur status so he could play in the Olympics. When he went to Parker’s office to discuss the situation, Dr. Leach was waiting for him. The tests had come back, and Quinn was diagnosed with a form of hemophilia known as Christmas disease.
“I didn’t know what hemophilia was,” said Quinn. “I was like, ‘What pill do I take?’”
As devastating as the diagnosis was, it answered a lot of questions. Sports had always been a big part of life for Quinn, who grew up near three baseball fields, the town pool, a pond, and basketball courts on Aqueduct Road. He played football at Kent, and after games, he would notice bruises on his arms so large he would wear long-sleeve shirts to conceal them from classmates.
The condition was magnified at BU, where he was facing bigger and faster competition. But Quinn continued to shine, and played for the US at World Juniors in 1986. Even after his diagnosis, he signed a waiver and played his junior year.
“When you’re a real good hockey player in Hockey East, you have a chance to play in the NHL,” said Parker, who retired in 2013 after 40 years and 897 wins as head coach. “I don’t think there’s any question that he would’ve had a great senior year and then continued on to have a great pro career.”
But in the summer of 1987, Quinn sprained his ankle playing basketball. It resulted in a five-week stay at the hospital in which he almost bled to death and developed compartment syndrome. He recovered, but his ankle was never quite the same. It took away his greatest strength as a player — his skating. And it ended his hopes of making it to the 1988 Games.
Ben Smith, the assistant coach who recruited Quinn to BU, likened Quinn’s ability to Hall of Famer Denis Potvin, who won three Norris trophies and led the Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980-83.
“He had tremendous power, tremendous lower body strength. Great stride,” said Smith. “That type of a solid, rock ’em, sock ’em defenseman, but also an offensive player, so he could play both ends of the rink. Run a power play or be on the ice the last 40 seconds of a one-goal game.”
Quinn did not play his senior year, but attempted a comeback in the minor leagues four years later. The process involved injecting himself with 6,000 units of Factor IX, a protein that helps the blood form clots to stop bleeding, before each practice and game. There were two more bids for the Olympics in 1992 and 1994, but he was never able to regain his form. He was cut.
But it would not take long for Quinn to figure out what was next. Smith, who had moved on to become head coach of Northeastern, offered him a job as an assistant.
“When he arrived, I thought it was really a big boost for the Northeastern program,” said Smith. “I could tell how the kids gravitated towards him as a mentor, as a counselor, as a coach, as a guy that they could trust in regard to, not just the hockey, but just being a decent student athlete, because he’d experienced it and had some setbacks.”
Quinn’s coaching odyssey included various stops as a college assistant, including the 2008-09 championship run with the Terriers, and with the Avalanche in the the NHL, before returning to BU in 2013 when Parker retired. The first recruit he landed that summer was Charlie McAvoy, who wanted to accept a scholarship offer on the spot when he visited the campus, but held off on making a decision until he made the drive back home to Long Island.
“My family made me wait the full three hours,” McAvoy recalled with a smile. “As soon as I walked in the door, I called him back and said ‘I want to play for you’.”
Quinn’s experience as a defenseman was an immediate draw for McAvoy, himself a highly regarded blue liner who would go on to be picked by the Bruins in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft.
“With his past, I just kind of saw myself in that, and I saw a guy with a lot of experience,” said McAvoy. “I think he does such a good job of being so inviting and opening up to all the recruits and the kids. There’s something about him that you just really gravitate toward his personality, his coaching ability.”
Those sentiments are a recurring theme when talking to Quinn’s former coaches and players.
“He’s very charismatic and makes you believe in what he’s saying,” said Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, who played three seasons for Quinn at BU. “He truly cares deeply not only about the player but the person that you are. That’s something that I’ll always remember him for.”
Most recently he was head coach of the New York Rangers, where he posted a winning record in each of his three seasons but was fired after an organizational shakeup.
Along the way, he served as an assistant coach for several international events for USA Hockey, but never in the Olympics. Nearly 35 years after his goal was denied, his dream of going to the Olympics became a reality last summer when he was initially named as an assistant for the Beijing Games.
The NHL’s decision in late December to not participate meant head coach Mike Sullivan would have to stick to his duties with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Quinn was the logical choice to replace him.
The announcement was made on Dec. 27, leaving him little time to celebrate while USA Hockey focused on assembling a coaching staff and roster. But don’t expect Quinn to use the quick turnaround as a crutch.
“I’ve never lost sight of the fact since I’ve been named the head coach, that I’m the head coach of the Olympic team. But there’s so much work that needed to be done in a short period of time,” said Quinn. “There was a lot of work put into a three-week stretch. We love the group that we put together. We think we’ve put together a team that has a great balance of experience and youth. Our expectation is to go over there and win a gold medal.”
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.