By Jim Hagerty
CHICAGO – In a somewhat surprising move for fans, the Chicago Blackhawks fired coach Joel Quenneville Tuesday and replaced him with Rockford IceHogs coach Jeremy Colliton.
The move, however, may have been inevitable organizationally. Quenneville has struggled over the past two seasons making things work with players GM Stan Bowman has given him. Last season’s dismal finish had some left wondering if Quenneville would be relieved in the offseason. Perhaps that writing was on the wall. But as Colliton took his young group of IceHogs from third place all the way to the AHL Western Conference Finals, both men stayed at their respective posts.
Then came Quenneville’s 6-2 start followed by a five-game skid. That was enough for Chicago to end the Coach Q era that rendered three Stanley Cups and a turnaround of an organization that had virtually been forgotten about among Chicago sports fans.
Colliton is a rare find. If not for a concussion issues, he likely had a few more seasons of pro hockey under his belt when, at 28, he was named coach of Mora IK of the Swedish Hockey League where he posted a 35-4-13 over four seasons.
He inherited mostly rookies in 2017 when his first year in Rockford began. A commonality in the AHL, guys moved on and off the roster all season. But the one thing Colliton was able to accomplish was buy-in from players day in and day out, something he said when he was hired was ingrained in him long before he took the job.
“I was a guy who paid attention to the team being successful,” he said of his nine-year pro career. “I was interested in what we were doing and why we’re doing it.”
Colliton was 6-3-1-2 as of Tuesday. The IceHogs went 40-28-4-4 in 2017-18.
Chicago brass said Tuesday morning that they are looking at Colliton with the same anticipation–and expectation–they had when they brought Quenneville in 2008. Quenneville replaced Chicago hockey royalty Denis Savard four games into the 2008-09 season and were far from contenders. That all changed under Quenneville, who went on become the second-winningest head coach in Blackhawks history with a record of 452-249-96 in 797 games.
“We are extremely fortunate to have Jeremy Colliton in the Blackhawks organization and feel strongly that he is best positioned to continue leading our players here in Chicago,” Bowman said. “All of those associated with Jeremy strongly believe he possesses many of the tools that will make him a successful head coach in this league. He has been very impressive as a communicator, a leader, and coach. He knows the Blackhawks system, understands our players and our culture and we believe he gives us the best opportunity to have success and grow as a team.”
Quenneville owns the best playoff record in club history, compiling a record of 76-52 with Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
“When Joel was originally hired into our 2008 season, we had great hope for his potential to take the team to new levels. He went beyond what anyone expected. As difficult as that decision in 2008 was, this one was tougher, Blackhawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz said in a statement.
“I wish Joel and his family well and thank him for his incredible leadership and results. Nothing will ever take away the success he brought our franchise, our fans and my family. Joel will forever be etched into the most memorable era in Chicago Blackhawk hockey. And for that, we will always be connected and always eternally grateful.”
In Rockford, Derek King has been named interim of the IceHogs. The 51-year-old was named assistant coach of the IceHogs on July 7, 2016. Prior to joining the Blackhawks organization, he worked as assistant and associate coach with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL from 2009-15. With the Marlies, he helped the team win one Western Conference Championship (2012) and three North Division Championships (2012, 2013, 2014). King played 14 years in the NHL.
“I’m very excited,” King said of the promotion. “I’ve interviewed for head jobs in junior and I’ve interviewed for the head job with the Marlies when I was with them and other coaches moved forward and didn’t get it. It gets frustrating after a while. But it is nice that the Hawks gave me the opportunity to take the reins here.” R.