Jeremy Colliton gets well wishes from Joel Quenneville before his first game as Blackhawks head coach
CHICAGO – It’s going to be a bit unusual to look behind the Blackhawks’ bench on Thursday night at the United Center. Expect that to be the case for a little while.
Since October of 2008, that’s the spot reserved for Joel Quenneville, the legendary coach who won 452 games with the franchise along with three Stanley Cups. That’s not the case anymore after he was suddenly fired on Tuesday, ending a ten-year run with the franchise.
Thirty-three year old Jeremy Colliton, who was in the team’s system as the head coach of the AHL Rockford IceHogs, got the promotion to take his spot. It’s a big jump for a successful coach who has just one season coaching in North America. Quenneville had 22 years experience in the NHL starting in 1996.
That doesn’t mean the former coach was above sending his best to his replacement, as Colliton received a few text messages from Quenneville shortly after his hiring. He talked about it on Thursday before his first game as the Blackhawks’ coach at the United Center against the Hurricanes.
“Just congratulations and wishing me luck and exchange text messages,” said Colliton of his conversation with the former coach. “Again, he’s a great man, great guy, and I really appreciated my time with him.”
It’s quite a boost for the young coach, who had only been on that side of the bench since 2013-2014 when he began his coaching career with Mora IK in Sweden. Quenneville is one of the greatest coaches in the history of the league, with his 890 victories ranking second in NHL history.
“That means a lot,” said Colliton. “He’s a Hall of Fame coach and now I’m succeeding him, and he took the time to send me a text message. So, again, he’s a great man.”
Now the pressure turns to the 33-year old coach, who has been handed the keys to a team stuck between a dynasty and a potential rebuild. At 6-6-3, the Blackhawks have shown flashes of themselves in the early part of the season, but four regulation losses in five games was enough to push the team’s management to move on from Quenneville.
Team president John McDonough said in Colliton’s news conference on Tuesday that he believes the current squad is one that can make the playoffs, meaning the new coach will have to get things rolling rather quickly.
“Nerves aren’t a bad thing,” said Colliton when asked about his feelings headed toward his first NHL game as a coach, admitting they were a little worse as a player. “It’s energy you’re looking for. So I think that will be present and just go out there and play.”
Maybe the guy he’s replacing will be watching. At least Colliton knows that, despite the circumstances, he cares.