Emotional Quenneville cherishes 'grind' to Stanley Cup
It was very late into the night on June 24, 2013, and Joel Quenneville struggled to find the words.
Wiping tears from his eyes, Quenneville stood on the ice at TD Garden in Boston, watching his players celebrate and had some difficulty dissecting what he had just witnessed as the Blackhawks beat Boston in Game 6 to win the Stanley Cup.
He choked up, explaining that he didn't think Bryan Bickell would even dress in the series. He thought Andrew Shaw and Michal Handzus probably shouldn't have played, and that Johnny Oduya, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland had somehow pasted themselves together with chewing gum and spit.
He mentioned Patrice Bergeron, who played Game 6 with broken ribs, torn cartilage, a separated shoulder and a punctured lung.
"I'm just in awe of what these guys have done," Quenneville said, sniffing back the tears. "I think you have to commend the effort of both teams. The series was something very special."
Last Monday night, when the Hawks won their third Stanley Cup in six seasons, Quenneville was nearly as emotional, but this time for different reasons.
He was in awe again, but this spring it was about how his team survived multiple challenges in multiple series, and somehow endured the playoff marathon to come out on top again.
"The grind, it's so unbelievable," Quenneville shouted, trying to be heard above the roar of the UC crowd and the blaring music. "We played Nashville. That was two months ago. We were up and down.
"Played great against Minnesota and had the test of our lives against Anaheim. Played two great games going into the Final.
"And then we realized Tampa Bay, how good they are. I don't think we anticipated how good they are. Got the momentum back in Game 4 and then we played our best two games to finish it -- and we needed it."
Quenneville paused to gather himself, and continued.
"It's two months of playing so hard," he said. "Every game, every shift, it's so important. This group of players is really something special."
While Quenneville demands a lot, it doesn't take much to get his leaders playing hard.
"It's a competitive group. You know, they're just wired differently, especially our top guys. They lead the charge. You don't see this everywhere," Quenneville said. "Our top guys, it's all about winning for them.
"It's how they take care of themselves. It's how they make each other better. It's how it goes on and on and on.
"And then no matter who comes into the team, they witness it. They see it. They see how important preparation is, how important the details are, and playing the right way.
"And we get the luxury to stand behind the bench."
Quenneville did get choked up again when thinking about the year since they lost Game 7 at home to Los Angeles in the Western Conference finals. If not for a bad start to the series and a bad break in overtime, we'd be sitting here right now talking about a three-peat.
But the Hawks made the long trek back and had just enough to make it happen again.
"It's pretty remarkable," Quenneville said, looking back a year. "You got a Game 7 at home, 2-goal lead, lose in overtime against a really good L.A. team, and they go on to win the Cup.
"It shows you the competitiveness of our group, how tough it really is to get back to where we were. That's why they were excited about the fact we got to where we were when we started this series. It was a great achievement.
"I think the guys remember last year, how important it is to find a way. As the series progressed, we just kept getting better."
For competitive types like Quenneville, another title does not satisfy a thirst to win the last game of the season.
If anything, it merely creates the need for more.
"No one loves winning more than I do," Quenneville laughed. "It's the greatest feeling in the world. After you do it once, you can't wait to do it again.
"It was special doing it in front of our own fans. You hope you get a chance to do it again.
"Just so proud of these guys. The way they compete, compete for one another, it's a special thing to watch. Special group of guys and I'm just very proud of them."
When it's over, there's a tendency among many to believe that it was always destined to finish with the Hawks on top, but it's an insult to the effort it takes to be the last team standing to think it so simple.
"This is so hard to do," Quenneville said, shaking his head. "It's been a long process. When you lose in a conference final, trying to get back to that same spot, it seems like it's a long time ago.
"Making the playoffs this year was a battle. In our own division, it's a battle every night. We have a lot of good teams we have to fight through just to get 2 points.
"Then you have a series like Anaheim after two tough series, and then you get Tampa, which is a team on the rise and going to be a threat for a long time.
"Our team is very resilient in a lot of ways. It's definitely a process. It's not an easy journey trying to get to the end, but at the end when you look back on it, that's what makes it so valuable.
"Our guys, they know when the end is near and that's when they seem to be at their best. It's a great quality to have. I'm lucky to be here to see it."
There are millions around Chicago today who would say the very same thing.
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