David Quinn’s hockey career was supposed to be different. A promising prep school career, drafted in the first round of the NHL draft, a place on the Boston University hockey team – Quinn’s future was surely playing the game somewhere at the highest level.
Instead, he was diagnosed with a blood clot disorder that essentially ended his career before it took off.
And Quinn wouldn’t change a thing.
The abrupt end of Quinn’s playing days began as a sad story, but evolved into a profession that has taken him to one of hockey’s most coveted positions. Quinn, a Cranston native, is in his first year as the head coach of the Boston University men’s hockey team, one of the most storied programs in the nation.
It wasn’t the career that he initially envisioned, years ago when he was playing for the Terriers. But now, he can’t envision doing anything else for a living.
“I wouldn’t change anything that’s happened to me,” Quinn said. “A lot of people ask me if I think about what might have been if I hadn’t gotten hurt. Obviously, I did right after, but I’ve been very lucky in my life. I love coaching and I wouldn’t change anything.”
Quinn is the first new head coach at BU since 1973, when legendary head coach Jack Parker – who led the program to three national championships – took over. Parker retired after the 2012-13 season, leaving a vacancy that was a natural fit for Quinn, given his past.
An unorthodox, unlikely past.
Quinn grew up in Cranston, playing hockey for CLCF and eventually attending Park View Middle School through ninth grade, when he made the decision to attend the Kent School, a preparatory school in Connecticut.
There, Quinn – a standout athlete – played both baseball and hockey, and excelled specifically on the ice. When he finished at the Kent School, he was drafted in the first round of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota North Stars.
Instead of going pro, however, Quinn went to BU, where he played for three years and was named All-Hockey East First-Team in 1985-86 before his whole life changed. Following his junior year, while being looked at for a severe ankle sprain he suffered while trying out for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team, he was diagnosed with Hemophilia B, a disorder that prevents blood from clotting properly.
Just like that, everything changed.
“When you’re 20 years old and you think that you’re going to play hockey for the next 15 years, then all of a sudden it’s taken away from you, you’re kind of scrambling and you’re trying to figure out what’s next,” Quinn said. “It’s not something that you’re really prepared for. I wanted to stay in the game.”
At that point, he hadn’t yet given up the hope of playing hockey. He spent five weeks in the hospital for his ankle and had multiple surgeries before a brief comeback.
Quinn got a shot in the AHL, playing part of the 1991-92 season and the entire 1992-93 season, but he retired after the two years. It just wasn’t the same.
“When I came back to play in ’92, I certainly wasn’t the skater I used to be,” he said. “I had missed just too much hockey and suffered too much damage after the surgery. I never felt like I was ever going to be able to make it back, to get to the NHL. So I retired, and I got into coaching.”
He had some experience. He had coached the junior varsity team at BU during his senior year after being diagnosed with the Hemophilia, but it had been a little while. After retiring, he got an opportunity to join the staff at Northeastern under head coach Ben Smith. He didn’t pass it up.
That set off a chain reaction of different stops that ultimately led him to the top job at BU. His experiences getting there helped shape what he still preaches to his team.
“You always dream,” Quinn said. “You get into a profession and I think everyone aspires to be at a high, high level at it and to have some success at it. The one thing we talk about here is just take care of the process. If you want to be a goal scorer, then do the things that you have to do. Be consumed with the things that will allow you to score goals rather than thinking about just scoring goals. I think the same thing needs to be said for whatever career path you choose.”
Quinn went from Northeastern to the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 1997, where he served as the top assistant and helped start the school’s Division I hockey program.
“That was an incredible opportunity,” Quinn said. “That really allowed me to start climbing the coaching ladder.”
Six years after helping UNO get off the ground, he took a job in Michigan working as a developmental coach for U.S. hockey’s national program. Next up was a coaching position at his alma mater, as Parker’s assistant head coach in 2004. With Quinn on the staff, BU won the national championship in 2009.
Once again, though, someone else came calling. The NHL’s Colorado Avalanche wanted Quinn to coach their AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, and he took the head coaching position there in 2009.
It was another huge boost to an already impressive coaching resume.
“I just took jobs that I thought were challenging, that would help me become a better coach,” Quinn said. “I never made a decision based on money. When I came back to coach at BU in ’04, the Avalanche asked me to be the head coach of their American League team, I took a pretty big pay cut to go do that. I did that because I thought it was the right thing to do from a career standpoint, and I felt long term it was really going to help my career.”
Three years into the AHL job, the NHL came calling, and Quinn moved up the ladder to become an assistant coach for the Avalanche in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
And then it happened. After 40 years at the helm, Parker retired from his position at BU. Quinn was a fairly obvious candidate, and he was contacted almost immediately. That set the wheels in motion, and before long he was being introduced as BU’s first head coach since the Nixon administration.
“Did I ever envision or think about being the head coach at BU? Yeah, I did,” Quinn said. “Obviously, with Jack’s age and my age, the timing when he did decide to retire might have been right. A lot plays into it. There’s a lot that goes into what opportunities are presented to you in your profession. Timing and luck are certainly two of them.”
It’s been a perfect match. While BU hasn’t gotten off to a roaring start so far this season – it’s 6-6-1 overall and 2-3 in Hockey East – there is plenty of time to turn it around, and Quinn is settling in nicely to his new position.
He also understands the importance of it. While some places are football schools or basketball schools, BU most certainly is not. BU is a hockey school.
“I love every minute of it,” Quinn said. “Like I said, I know what the job means to the program and I certainly understand what it means around campus. It’s really been everything I thought it would be and more.”
Now his life is a little more busy, but he’s still able to get home about once a week to see the family that he has in Cranston, including his mother, brother, sister, nephew and niece. In the spring and summer, he’s around even more, golfing at Wannamoisett Country Club in East Providence and spending time with family.
And then it’s back to Boston, where he envelops himself in the job – in the profession – that wasn’t at all the one he expected.
It’s worked out perfectly.
“I love it,” Quinn said. “It’s been a great experience. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot more work than you envision. You think you know what a job entails and then you get it and you sit in the seat and do the job and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is a lot more than I thought.’ But it’s been great.”