When Joel Quenneville was an 18-year-old defenseman for the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League, displaying exemplary professionalism and passion for the game, Wayne Maxner sensed a natural leader in his midst.
"I never had to worry when Joel was on the ice,'' the longtime Spitfires coach recalled Monday. "I knew he was going places.''
Often, Quenneville went to the penalty box. He still holds the Spitfires record for points by a defenseman — 103 in 1977-78 — but Maxner remembers just as well the previous year, when he racked up 169 penalty minutes. Minus the mustache, a young Quenneville could be quick to curl his lip.
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"He wasn't afraid to mix it up,'' said Maxner, 70. "But Joel always listened. He had a great shot, was pretty mobile, but I made him captain because of his leadership qualities. He never disappointed me.''
After Quenneville left his hometown of Windsor for the AHL and an eventual 803-game NHL career, the Spitfires made an in-season trade in 1978 for a feisty, no-nonsense defenseman who reminded Maxner of the leader he lost. The next season, Maxner named Claude Julien team captain.
Julien capably replaced Quenneville in every way, even registering 148 penalty minutes one season.
"Both were big fan favorites,'' said Bobby Murray, OHL Alumni chairman.
About 35 years later, on an NHL stage slightly bigger than Windsor Arena, Quenneville and Julien — former Spitfires spit-and-vinegar captains and Stanley Cup Final counterparts — have shaped teams in their likenesses as respective coaches of the Blackhawks and Bruins. One of the old OHL D-men will become the first coach since Scotty Bowman with the Red Wings to win multiple Cups with the same team.
"Claude was the same type of player as Joel,'' Maxner said. "When they were 18, 19 years old, developing from young hockey players into men, both weren't afraid to work hard and lead. I would say they are almost identical as coaches and people.''
Maxner got to know Quenneville, the local kid who earned recognition as a 16-year-old all-city player, better than he did Julien. They still correspond regularly, including during the playoffs, and Quenneville thought enough of Maxner to invite him and his wife to Windsor when Coach Q brought the Cup there in 2010.
"It was one of those moments where you shake your head and say, 'Isn't this wonderful?' '' Maxner said.
You could hear the warmth in Maxner's voice as he expressed his only regret of the success Quenneville has enjoyed: that Quenneville's father wasn't around to savor it. Norm Quenneville, whom Maxner considered a friend, died in 1997.
"A great man,'' Maxner said.
A former Bruins forward who played 62 games from 1964 to '66, Maxner feels a stronger allegiance to the Quenneville family than to the only NHL team whose uniform he wore.
"I want both coaches to do well, but I have to say my heart is in Chicago,'' said Maxner, now a car salesman near London, Ontario.
He hopes Julien understands. Their relationship, while not as close as the one with Quenneville, remains special to Maxner. Pride fills Maxner recalling the question Julien asked in 1997 in Ottawa when they ran into one another scouting.
"Claude had an opportunity to get into coaching with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and said, 'What do you think?' '' Maxner said. "I said, 'You should go for it.' He went on to be a great coach in (the AHL) and eventually won the Cup.''
Like Quenneville, who's two years older, Julien succeeds by preaching the brand of accountability and consistency they exhibited as players. This season, he got 41-year-old offensive forward Jaromir Jagr to accept playing both ends more and a youthful core to embrace his signature defensive system.
When injuries forced the Bruins to call up 22-year-old defenseman Torey Krug last month with three regular-season games of experience, Julien eased Krug's mind by stressing not to be afraid to make mistakes. Krug responded with six points in nine playoff games.
It resembled how Quenneville trusts young, talented players until they prove unworthy of it. In that way, and others, Quenneville and Julien share a coaching style as well as a playing past — and once shared an important ride.
At the 2011 draft in St. Paul, Minn., Julien was running late and needed to return to his hotel for a congratulatory phone call from President Barack Obama — the same call Quenneville had received one year earlier.
"Joel was pretty good about it,'' Julien recounted months later. "He said, 'Hop in with us.' ''
Like a good defenseman, Quenneville cleared traffic quickly enough to get Julien back in time.
For two sons of the Spitfires, the next two weeks promise a journey even more memorable.