Quenneville is having good old time with Jacks

Ken Rosenthal

April 04, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

"Gimme Some Lovin' " blasts from the stereo in the Skipjacks' locker room, prompting one of the fuzzy-faced kids to shout, "Great tune!" Joel Quenneville surveys the commotion and smiles. "They know it," the veteran defenseman notes. "But they probably don't know who did it."

Quenneville, 32, is a good 10 years older than most of his teammates. He remembers the Spencer Davis Group recording "Gimme Some Lovin'." He can identify other classics as well. Heck, he's so ancient, he played for the Colorado Rockies before they became the New Jersey Devils.

What's he doing in Baltimore? The question tortured him earlier this season, but no more. Joel Quenneville is here playing hockey. He never imagined a year in the minors would rekindle his love for the game. But after 12 NHL seasons, he's enjoying every check, every shot, every shift.

The Skipjacks open the Calder Cup playoffs tomorrow night in Binghamton, and Quenneville says, "I'd love to go out a winner." Still, he isn't sure this is the end of his career. One of these days, he'll become either a hockey coach or investment broker. But not yet.

"After playing this year, I don't know," says Quenneville (pronounced KWEN-ville). "In a sense, if I retire, it wouldn't bother me a bit. But I think I'd miss it. If there's a possibility to play, I'd pursue it."

That's quite a reversal, for Quenneville said he was "99 percent" certain he would retire after appearing in only 44 games for Hartford last year. Then the Whalers traded him to Washington, and suddenly he had hope. Then Washington demoted him to Baltimore, and suddenly it was gone.

He hadn't played in the minors since the late '70s, but that much he could accept. After all, the Whalers wanted to make him a player-coach with their AHL club in Springfield, Mass., enabling him to stay close to his home in Farmington, Conn. But Baltimore? Why bother?

A big reason was money -- Quenneville is in the final year of a two-year deal that will pay him $195,000 whether he plays in the NHL or the AHL. He didn't want to forfeit his salary, so he rented an apartment downtown with his wife "Boo," who is expecting their first child.

Washington general manager David Poile says he would have understood if Quenneville had retired after his initial demotion. Baltimore coach Rob Laird says he wasn't sure the veteran would adjust to a league in which 500-mile bus trips are common and teams often play three games in three nights.

"It was a little tough at first," Quenneville admits. "But I had all summer to plan for it. I saw the writing on the wall: If I was going to be in the NHL, it would be very part-time. At first it hurts your pride. But I've got nothing to be embarrassed about. I've had a pretty decent career."

In hockeyspeak, Quenneville is known as a "defensive" defenseman. He has never scored more than 10 goals or recorded more than 25 assists in an NHL season, and his totals with the Skipjacks are a modest six and 13. Still, he remains an excellent penalty killer, if not the swiftest skater.

When he arrived in Washington for "future considerations" last Oct. 3, it seemed the perfect career move. Almost every Capitals defenseman was elsewhere at the time, from Kevin Hatcher (holdout) to Mikhail Tatarinov (unsigned), from Rod Langway (injured) to Ken Sabourin (Calgary).

But Quenneville played only nine games for Washington. He could have quit. He could have moped. Instead, he looked around the locker room and started laughing again. "That's the best part of being down here -- the kids," he says. "It keeps me young, keeps me feeling good. There's never a dull moment, that's for sure."

Can he still play? Laird says yes. The NHL expands by one team (San Jose) next season and two more (Tampa Bay and Ottawa) the year after. "You've got to feel the talent is going to be spread out that much more," Laird says. "Guys on the borderline would be NHL players."

Right now, Quenneville says he would consider staying in Baltimore, even at a much lower salary. The decision ultimately rests with the Capitals, but Poile says, "How I see Joel is not as important as how Joel sees himself."

That's a deep question, and right now Quenneville is not thinking deep thoughts. No, the grand old man is back in the Skipjacks' locker room, where much to his surprise, a backup goaltender named Shawn Simpson has identified the group that performed "Gimme Some Lovin'."

"You see," Joel Quenneville says. "These guys are 20, going on 50."

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