CHICAGO – Something seemed so similar to the past, even though there were plenty of signs that things were much different on Tuesday night at the United Center.
Instead of his usual news conference spot in the press room, he was stepping up to a podium in the visitor’s basketball locker room. Instead of the familiar black backdrop for the Blackhawks, it was now a red one for Florida Panthers.
Yet Joel Quenneville’s attitude and demeanor were familiar to those who got to know him in Chicago during his nine years with the franchise. It’s not the first time the coach has been on the opposing bench in the United Center, but it is the first since he was fired by the Blackhawks after leading the team to its greatest decade in history.
But it was the latter, the three Stanley Cups, eight playoffs appearances, and the players who took the ice for the team that come back so quickly to the coach as he leads the Florida Panthers against the Blackhawks.
“It all brings back a special time in our lives and a special time with the city, with going through some amazing runs that are so memorable,” said Quenneville before the game on Tuesday. “So many people shared it and so many people played a hand in it, and were responsible for it. I was very fortunate to have that type of career, time here in Chicago, and shared with a lot of people and feeling that today.”
Around 7:30 PM, Quenneville should feel the love of the fans, who’ll likely give him a few rousing ovations even though he’ll be trying to beat the Blackhawks on Tuesday. The coach arrived in October of 2009 and upon his dismissal in November of 2018 had won 452 of his 797 games with the franchise in the regular season while going 76-52 in the playoffs.
Under his leadership, the Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup title in 49 years back in 2010, then repeated the feat with the 2013 and 2015 teams, with each squad winning competitive final series in six games. Quenneville said on Tuesday that those clinching victories along with the other difficult contests leading up to them are the first memories that pop into his head from his time with the franchise.
Yet it’s the people, the players, front office personnel, and the fans that are even more special for Quenneville when reflecting on his time in Chicago.
“You feel the buzz, the road from the crowd, out there. That’s a special feeling that you don’t get to feel in a lot of buildings and have that experience, that was one of the special moments of having the privilege of coaching here and being here is always special,” said Quenneville. “That environment is where it all gets done and that’s fun being apart of that.
“You see ‘Tazer’ (Jonathan Toews) and you see ‘Kaner’ (Patrick Kane), you see their team and some of the players you have a lot of respect for and made it all happen, you’re fortunate to have the privilege to work for those guys.”
Like all homecomings, however, there is a task at hand, and that involves beating the team you spent so much time with in the past. The Panthers, like the Blackhawks, have won their last five games, and each group wouldn’t mind putting aside emotion for the sake of a big win.
“I think both teams are excited about where they’re at right now going into the break, and it’s a very meaningful game to sustain the momentum going into it,” said Quenneville, but do expect the significance of the night to impact the coach and all those in the United Center.