KENNEWICK -- Pat Quinn was full of compliments Saturday night -- except for the officiating -- as he watched his Vancouver Giants and the Tri-City Americans play Game 2 of the Western Hockey League's Western Conference finals at Toyota Center.
Quinn, coach of the Edmonton Oilers, caught a flight with some scouts to the Tri-Cities on Saturday morning to watch the Giants play for just the second time this season.
"I saw them when they came to Edmonton, but we have been busy with exit interviews and I haven't had a chance to see them again until now," said Quinn, whose Oilers missed the NHL playoffs. "I love junior hockey. The years I wasn't in the NHL, I went to a lot of games in Vancouver. I love the way the kids play -- you couldn't ask for better work ethic, and you see it night after night."
The Giants lost 4-0, and Quinn was surprised at the noise level at Toyota Center.
"This place is loud," he said. "The enthusiasm here is exciting. It's nice to see the crowds back here."
Ron Toigo owns the majority of the Giants, but Quinn, 67, and a handful of others -- including hockey great Gordie Howe and Grammy award-winning singer Michael Buble -- also have a small slice of the team.
"We just have a little bit," said Quinn of his ownership share. "We are modest fans and owners."
The Northwest is Quinn's old stomping grounds. Back in the day (1966-67), he played a season for the old Seattle Totems of the WHL.
"We won the championship that year," said Quinn, who was an imposing 6-foot-3, 215-pound defenseman. "I still see a few of the guys from back then."
From juniors, Quinn played in the CHL and the made his NHL debut in 1968 with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He went on to have a successful hockey career playing for the Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and the old Atlanta Flames. He played nine years in the NHL, retiring in 1977 with the Flames after suffering ankle injury.
Quinn jumped right into coaching after his playing career was over, starting with the Philadelphia Flyers. He then moved to the L.A. Kings, the Vancouver Canucks, the Toronto Maple Leafs and, after a three-year absence, just finished his first year with the Oilers.
"I had a chance to get back in," Quinn said of returning to the bench. "I had a wonderful career in hockey and I thought I could step into retirement, but I soon found out that I missed the game.
"For 40-some odd years, I had a gift -- to work in this wonderful game. When I stepped away, I found out how much I needed it."
Quinn's first job back on the bench was in 2009 when he led Team Canada -- and former Tri-City goalie Chet Pickard -- to a gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships.
Quinn has watched, with pleasure, over the years as former junior players, who went on to have successful NHL careers, put their money and time back into junior programs.
Olie Kolzig and Stu Barnes are two of those players, buying the Americans in April 2005 and helping bring the team to the forefront of the WHL.
"These players have taken a lot from the game, and this is their chance to give back," Quinn said. "They want to provide an opportunity to these young men to succeed. This level is still the best feeder system for the NHL. When you have the opportunity to step in and make it better, that is the real joy.
"Not every kid is going to make it to the NHL," Quinn continued. "The concept of teamwork is important. You take these lessons with you in life: You compete hard and you stand up for your teammates and yourself. There are great principles that come from this sport. When you see good coaches, they know it's import to teach them how to win -- not just a lesson in hockey, but for life."