One-on-One with Coach Quinn

This week, the sounds of pro hockey returned to Hoover Arena in Strongsville – skates slicing the ice and biscuits whistling into the boards. Watching the action with a close eye was David Quinn, entering his third season as the Monsters head coach.

Quinn and his Monsters squad are coming off both the most successful regular season in the franchise’s short history and a postseason ending that will keep a fire under them all season.

In 2010-11, the Monsters finished with a record 44-28-3-5 – setting marks for total wins, home wins and road victories. The team posted the best overall home and road records in franchise history, finished second in the North Division and made their first-ever playoff appearance.

In the postseason, the Monsters took a 3-1 series lead over Manitoba before ultimately dropping their final two contests – and their first round series – at The Q.

This season, Quinn and his new-look staff welcome back some strong veterans, like Justin Mercier, David van der Gulik and Greg Mauldin. The Monsters might feature a promising trio of rookies who could see time in Cleveland and a pair of new goalies.

With the preseason already slated to start this weekend in North Carolina – and the puck set to drop with the Monsters celebrating their fifth anniversary on October 7 at The Q – decided to sit down with Coach Quinn to talk about last year’s successful season, his coaching philosophy and his friendship with Avs coach, Joe Sacco …

You come into this year’s Training Camp with far less guys than you brought in a year ago. What’s the reason?
Coach David Quinn: Yeah, we put 23 guys on the ice. We have some guys hurt.

By design, we did this. Just because of the short Camp, we felt that – in the past – we brought about 40 guys in and we never really reached out to them once we let guys go. We had a good idea this year – better than in the past – of what our team might look like. So we wanted to hit the ground running when practice started. Do the things we did today, implement a system.

(We wanted) to work with the guys who are here or have a chance to be here. We just feel this is the best way to do it this year.

Does having so many returning players factor into that decision?
Coach Quinn: Yeah, that had something to do with it. And the fact that the way things evolved in Colorado, with a lot of the guys they signed and a lot of the one-way contracts that they had.

They had a good idea – a better idea – of what their roster’s going to look like this year. So, in turn, we have a better idea.

With your experience, do you think you’re uniquely qualified to coach young players?
Coach Quinn: I think I’ve been fortunate in my opportunities that I’ve been able to coach guys in the 18-22-year-old range. And this job certainly gave me the opportunity to coach some older guys.

I like to think I’m smart enough to realize I’m not going to treat a 30-year-old like a 22-year-old. You’re going to demand the same out of them, but you’re going to approach it in a different manner. And, like I said, I think I’m smart enough to realize that. But I’ve been very fortunate to coach at the colleges I’ve coached at. And the unique experience to coach with the U.S. National program – working with the best 16- and 17-year-old players in the country.

So my background has allowed me to work with a lot of younger players.

How much of a motivating factor will the way last season ended be for you and your team?
Coach Quinn: I think a lot – especially with the amount of guys we have coming back this year, the guys who went through that.

They knew what we had at stake. They knew we had a chance to have a more successful season than we did. It was a unique group. We had a lot of fun. We worked hard. Had good camaraderie. It was a tough to have the season end the way it did.

But, first taste of the playoffs – sometimes you have to go through that in order to break through the wall and have a certain level of success. And we think that, hopefully, that experience will put us in a mindset that when we do get a chance to get back to the playoffs, we’ve learned our lesson and won’t have to go through that again.

How was the offseason for you?
Coach Quinn: Tough. The whole summer was tough. You just never stop thinking about it. It’s amazing – when you’re that close; all three games to end the series were tied in the third period.

(Manitoba) was a little bit more experienced. They understood that the patience of playoff hockey – to let the other team beat themselves. And, unfortunately, we did in all three games.

Was it a case of running into a red-hot goalie at the wrong time?
Coach Quinn: We scored two goals in the last three games. He had an awful lot to do with it.

I thought we had some key people kind of struggle at the wrong time. (Manitoba) played good team defense. And if you look at the shots on-net, we didn’t give up much. I think we out-shot them, 35-17, in the last game. We gave up three goals and we got one.

So, it was disappointing. But hopefully we’ve learned some valuable lessons.

How nice is it to have so many familiar faces heading in this year’s Camp?
Coach Quinn: I think we’ll be able to hit the ground running a little bit easier than we did last year. We had a lot of new faces last year.

This year, we’ve got a good group of guys here. And I think with the veterans we’ve got returning, I think it puts us in a better position to get off to a better start and not have to go through the growing pains we’ve been through over the last couple years. I think it’s going to be a great group of guys once we get healthy.

We have a very good mix of veterans, a couple second- and third-year guys and the rookie crop is a good as it’s been since I’ve been here.

Talk about some of your rookies.
Coach Quinn: There’s a couple in Colorado – and they might stay in Colorado. We don’t know what they’re doing up-top, but I know up-top that you have some highly-touted rookies vying for spots.

You have Stefan Elliott. There’s (Tyson) Barrie and (Brad) Malone. These are three guys who could crack the lineup. They’re legit. They’re three guys who could conceivably play in the National Hockey League to start the season. So we have to sit and wait; we’re in a little bit of a tough position right now.

Is it tough to strike a balance between which guys are going up to the parent club and which aren’t?
Coach Quinn: Honestly, you’re happy for them if they make it. If they don’t … you just have to coach the team you have. You can’t worry about who’s not here; you have to make sure you’re taking care of the guys that are here and work with them and do the best job you can and help them reach their ultimate goal – which is to play in the National Hockey League.

There’s a dynamic when a guy gets called up, there’s certain guys that’ll say, ‘Why the hell wasn’t it me?’ There’s certain guys that you know you’re going to have to talk to and explain the situation to them. And other guys realize the situation that they’re in.

But for me, that’s just knowing your team and knowing the pulse and makeup of your team. And understanding which guys are sensitive and which guys aren’t. I usually grab a few guys after a guy gets called up, just to explain the lay of the land. Let them realize why it happened, what the Avs were looking for and why they called that particular guy up. Sometimes it’s as simple as, ‘He’s playing better than you.’

How about for players coming from Colorado to Cleveland?
Coach Quinn: That’s also a difficult thing.

Sometimes it’s a numbers game up there. Sometimes it’s contractual. Or maybe he didn’t take advantage of his opportunity. There’s a variety of reasons, and all depending on what the reason is, how much explaining you have to do, how much massaging you have to do. Sometimes you have to be hard on them, too. It’s all circumstantial.

How will coming into the season with two new goalies affect the team?
Coach Quinn: Well, Trevor Cann will be here. He was here two years ago; he’s played with us on and off over the last two years. (Cedrick) Desjardins is a new goalie. He’s a guy who’s had an awful lot of success at this level. It’s a great duo.

We’ve got an older guy who’s been in the league. (An older guy meaning he’s 25.) And Trevor’s just 22. And this will be his first real consistent opportunity to play here for the full year.

We know what we have in Desjardins. And we also know what we have in Trevor Cann. Trevor’s made a lot of progress over the last two years and he’s a guy – when he had an opportunity up there last year, he played very well. Our goaltending will be very strong.

Which players are you curious to see, in terms of progress they’ve made from last season to this one?
Coach Quinn: I’m that way with everybody, really. But the guys that go from their first year to their second year you’re really interested in seeing.

How’s Luke Walker going to do? How’s Cameron Gaunce going to do? How’s Joel Chouinard or Zach Cohen going to do? Mark Olver? Guys like that who’ve had some up and downs as rookies and had some success. Those are the guys that you’re curious to see what they learned last year.

Has it become who they are? Or are they just doing it because you told them to do it? There’s a big difference. And if that can become who they are, then they have a much better chance of making it at the next level.

Is there an organization philosophy that permeates from the parent club in Colorado?
Coach Quinn: Yes, there’s an organizational philosophy. The good news is that Joe Sacco and I have known each other for 25 years and went to school together and we have a lot of similarities in our coaching approach and what we’re looking for. So there’s really not a lot of differences.

If I run my practices the way I want to and implemented the systems that I want and Joe ran the systems he wanted to, you’d look and see a lot of overlap.

And this year, the Monsters’ GM, David Oliver, will actually be a member of your coaching staff. How will that work out?
Coach Quinn: It sounds weird, but with our relationship – we’re a team. It’s a unique situation.

We get along so well professionally and personally, that I never think of it that way. I never look at him as the GM or an assistant coach. We’re two guys who work together. And that’s the truth.

Do you have a coaching philosophy?
Coach Quinn: My coaching philosophy is to put a guy in a position to reach his ultimate abilities, and do it in a manner where he’s having fun doing it. And it’s a tough balancing act.

I think I’m demanding, but I think I’m fair. And I want them to enjoy coming to the rink.

It was good, last year, to hear the guys say they never worked harder but they never had more fun. And at the end of the day, Dave Oliver and Dan Laperriere looked at each other and thought: What more can you ask for?

Do you feel like hockey is beginning to grow in Cleveland?
Coach Quinn: There’s definitely momentum, no question.

When I took the job, Joe Sacco said, ‘It’s an AHL team, but they run it like an NHL team in a lot of ways.’ The organization deserves an incredible amount of credit for the effort they put in, the support we get and the first-class way this organization is run. Guys love playing here. The crowds have been outstanding.

We’ve been able to play off the Cavaliers success, but I think we’ve created our own niche, our own identity. People that know our guys – they’re likeable guys. They work hard in the community.

The success we had last year will hopefully springboard us to generate even more interest.

People want to do things on week nights and weekend nights in the winter. And it’s an affordable night out. It’s a great night out. It’s just done the right way. And when you have an organization that’s run the way ours is, I’m not surprised we have the support we have.


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