Kalli Quinn found her father’s face etched on glass, and her eyes welled and flooded until the lines blurred away. She couldn’t make out the words written beneath the picture.
They probably said something about the 1,400 regular season games he coached; the 684 wins; the two Jack Adams Awards. They likely mentioned Team Canada wining gold at the 2002 Oympics, and that 35-game unbeaten streak with the Flyers back in 1979.
But as she looked up at Pat Quinn’s newly placed plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame—in the very top row, above six or seven others—all Kalli could think about was her father, looking down at her.
It’s something she’d thought about each day since he left the world nearly two years ago, at age 71, after a long fight to live with a failing liver. She thought about it when the tributes poured in from around the world, and when the Leafs wore shamrock patches marked with PQ, and when the Canucks named the road outside their rink Pat Quinn Way. She thought about it in Moscow last spring, when her dad was posthumously honoured by the International Ice Hockey Federation and the global hockey fraternity flooded her with stories of what her dad meant to them. There were Czechs, Russians, and Slovaks—even some Irish—all of them enamoured by the game’s grand statesman.
The memories recounted by friends and strangers were a reminder of what her family had lost. Painful as that could be, it also made her father tangible for Kalli; a force against the dreaded slow fade that follows the loss of the people we love. Her dad was ever-present, because Pat Quinn was always there.
Kalli Quinn had imagined him looking down on her when Lanny McDonald called with the news that her dad would enter the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builder’s category with the class of 2016.
And while the hockey world celebrated the game’s Big Irishman—the cigar—chomping player’s coach, the blue-collar gentleman always good for a quote—Kalli remembered the dad who sang her and her sister “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” when he tucked them into bed, who held them tight in the ocean after having watched Jaws, and who let them steer the golf cart while he worked the pedals. She remembered how he broke his ankle and ended his playing career by goofing around on his daughters’ skateboard in Atlanta. She remembered the dad who cheered from the stands at her swim meets; the family vacation to Ireland after the Cup final in 1980; the goofy outfits he wore every St. Patrick’s Day. She thought about how her dad pulled her close after Team Canada won gold in Salt Lake City, kept his arm around her as the team photo was taken on the ice.
After visiting the Hall of Fame on the Friday before her father’s induction, Kalli Quinn was introduced at centre ice next to Eric Lindros, Rogie Vachon and Sergei Makarov as the 2016 Hall of Fame inductees were honoured before the Leafs game against the Flyers.
As she stood in front of the roaring fans, she tried to imagine what it was like for him to live the life he had, revered by so many, while still stopping to talk to any fan who wanted to chat and taking time to remember the names of arena attendants and ushers, and all the regular people he felt were just as important to the game as he was.
As she stood on the ice in his place, Kalli thought of her dad looking down at that moment, and wondered what he’d think.
“I had the best the life ever,” she heard him say. “The best ever.”
Dan Robson is the author of Quinn: The Life of a Hockey Legend. Read an excerpt here.