Whaler roots run deep for Tippett, Quenneville

Published Apr. 11, 2012 7:47 p.m. EDT

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Dave Tippett invited Joel Quenneville and several Hartford Whalers teammates to his wedding following Tippett's first NHL season in 1983-84.

Nobody came, but the snub had nothing to do with their relationship. Tippett had only played 17 games in Hartford, and he didn’t exactly choose a resort destination for the occasion.

“I got married in Bismarck, North Dakota,” Tippett chuckled. “There weren’t a lot of takers.”
That might have been the last time anybody in this tight-knit group of players ever said no to each other. Despite the passage of more than two decades and their scattering to all corners of the NHL universe, Tippett, Quenneville and a cast of ex-Whalers, including Ron Francis, Kevin Dineen, Ulf Samuelsson, John Anderson and Mike Liut have remained close.

“My youngest daughter’s getting married, and it’s a very small, tight family wedding but all those guys are invited, and we went to all of their kids’ weddings,” Tippett said. “That’s the kind of friendship that’s there.”

Three of the core members of that group won’t have to wait that long for a reunion. Instead, they’ll match wits from opposing benches as the Coyotes face the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, beginning Thursday at Jobing.com Arena.

Anderson is an assistant coach under Tippett in Phoenix; Quenneville is the Blackhawks’ fourth-year coach and a longtime Tippett admirer.

“Tippy’s very technical and his teams always play a real sound team game,” Quenneville said Wednesday. “You look at when he was in Dallas or here, his teams always seem to move with purpose and check well in all zones.”

Some believe that style is a reflection of Tippett’s personality. Anderson disagrees.

“Tip’s pretty innovative offensively, but I think you coach the team you have,” he said. “If we were to run and gun against Chicago, what chance would we have? Call a spade a spade. If we had really good offensive power, we’d let the reins go, too, but that’s not the case.”

Instead, this series will match Chicago’s firepower against Phoenix’s persistent approach. In that respect, the Coyotes mirror their coach’s playing style from those bygone days in Connecticut.

“Was he ever intense,” Quenneville said. “Tippy was relentless.”

Quenneville was a five-year veteran when he arrived in Hartford, one year before Tippett. But the 5-foot-8 rookie made an immediate impression.

“He immediately fit in with the team because you valued how competitive he was,” Quenneville said.

Tippett remembers Quenneville for another reason.

“He was probably one of the last guys in the league to wear those Lang skates with the fitted boots,” Tippett said, laughing. “They had the insoles and he used to take a lot of ribbing but he blocked so many shots with his feet that they were a benefit to him.

“I remember seeing X-rays of his feet where there were cracks in them and he’d be out playing.”

Quenneville insists he still has those 1979 skates.

“Still take abuse,” he said.

Tippett credits Quenneville with shielding him from such abuse when he arrived in Hartford.

“There were some guys back then that would look down on rookies,” Tippett said. “He wasn’t like that at all. He embraced the whole team atmosphere. He’s just a really good guy.”

The team enjoyed the benefit of playing in a small town that boasted no other professional franchises. The Whalers played at the Civic Center, which is literally surrounded by a shopping mall. After every practice, the team would head up to Chuck’s Steak House for a mandatory lunch and plenty of hob-knobbing with the community.

“My wife told me one time when she went to a game: ‘I know 3,000 people at this game.’” Tippett said. “It was a real good thing back then for a professional sports team to be that tight with a city. It was very unique.”

The Whalers enjoyed a modest playoff run in the 1985-86 season after finishing fourth in the Adams Division. They stunned Quebec in the first round, then took the eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens to seven games before Claude Lemieux ended their dreams with a backhander in overtime.

The city of Hartford still celebrated like the Whalers had won the Cup

“We lose to Montreal in the second round and we have a parade,” Anderson said, laughing. “Who does that? Yay! We’re like 17th best.”

Both Quenneville and Tippett have enjoyed coaching success since moving on. Tippett has made the playoffs in eight of his nine seasons and won the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best coach in 2010.

Quenneville had made the postseason in 13 of the 14 seasons he finished the season as a head coach. He also has a Stanley Cup, two conference finals appearances and a Jack Adams Award on his resume.

The two may not be teammates any more, but that small-town atmosphere helped forge an unbreakable and influential bond.

“We probably started influencing each when we were standing at the boards trying to figure out how who was going to stop (Peter) Stastny in Quebec a long time ago,” Tippett said. “When we’ve gotten together over the years there’s always a lot of talk about the game and structure of the game. It’s been a good relationship. I’ve admired his career and what he’s done and what he continues to do.

“Our friendship, we’ll put on hold for a few days. We’ll pick it up again after the series.”