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Sharks coach Quinn, GM Grier bring Boston University bond to new jobs

Mike Grier, the San Jose Sharks general manager, was asked about the Boston University connection between himself and his newly named coach, David Quinn, as the men sat next to each other at a press conference Tuesday.

Quinn turned to him and quipped, “Did you go to BU?”

Grier laughed.

“It didn’t factor into the decision,” he said. “I think it’s just the cherry on top, trying to get some more Terriers out west.”

Quinn was hired as Sharks coach Tuesday, his second chance at a head job in the NHL after he coached the New York Rangers for three seasons from 2018-21. Before that, Quinn was the coach at BU and that, of course, is where this story begins.

“I needed to get out of the house sometimes and get a workout in, so I’d go down to school and he was kind enough to talk hockey with me, let me pick his brain,” Grier said.

[RELATED: Quinn hired as Sharks coach, replaces Boughner]

The two men — who met first when Grier was playing for BU and Quinn was coaching Northeastern University in the 1990s — would talk hockey on those summer days, back when neither knew they would one day work together, building on the philosophies they had found they had in common.

“When I was coaching at BU, we spent a lot of time at BU, watched practices,” Quinn said. “We talked before practice, after practice. I just think instinctively we do see the game in a very similar way. We have the same level of expectations. There will be respectful disagreements, like there are with everybody in hockey — hockey’s a very subjective game.

“But I think what makes this situation unique is we had a high level of familiarity with each other.”

It all goes back to Jack Parker, Grier explained. The legendary BU coach led both men as players, Quinn from 1984-88 and Grier from 1993-96. He helped develop both Grier and Quinn, later hiring Quinn as associate head coach, forming a foundation that would help bind them as they discovered commonalities in the ways they saw the game.

They found themselves aligned, on ideas and ways of playing, on concepts and philosophy.

“That’s for sure,” Grier said, of the two men being in sync. “I think it was a big factor in the process — how I see the game and how he sees the game. They mesh well. That’s not to say that we won’t push, challenge each other, if we see things differently to help us get better and move forward. But that’s definitely a part of it.”

They know that this will not be easy. The Sharks are coming off three seasons out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after reaching the Western Conference Final in 2019, when they lost to the eventual Cup champion St. Louis Blues in six games.

San Jose has lost some of its biggest names and most important faces since that time — Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns are all gone, with Burns leaving via trade to the Carolina Hurricanes on July 13.

It is, quite clearly, a new era for the Sharks. And Grier and Quinn believe they are the team to lead them into their next phase.

“My coaching philosophy has always been relationship-driven,” Quinn said. “I don’t care what you do in life, if you don’t have a connection to the people that you’re leading, whether you’re a manager of an office or coaching a hockey team, you’re not going to get the most out of people.

“When the people you’re leading know you care about them and want what’s best for them, you’ve got a much better chance to get the most out of them.”

Which could just as easily have been Grier’s answer for part of why he hired Quinn.

And it doesn’t stop there. John McCarthy was named coach of the San Jose Barracuda, the Sharks affiliate in the American Hockey League, on May 18. McCarthy played for Quinn from 2005-09, when Quinn was the associate head coach of BU.

“The fact that he and I have a previous relationship — and an awful lot of respect for each other personally and professionally — I think will make our relationship with the Barracuda unique,” Quinn said. “So obviously our communication will be consistent, it will be often and there will be no surprises on what’s going on with our American Hockey League team.”

As for the NHL team, it is one that both Quinn and Grier are realistic about. The Sharks could struggle to score, as they did last season in averaging the third-fewest goals per game in the NHL (2.57), behind the Arizona Coyotes (2.51) and Philadelphia Flyers (2.56).

“We’re going to push, try and make the playoffs,” Grier said. “If we don’t, we know we’ll have been competitive all season long. In every game the team will have put out an effort we can be proud of. And if we’re not quite there yet, we’re not remove there yet.”

Quinn used words like tenacious and up-tempo and aggressive to describe the team he wanted to coach, a team that would be, as he put it, “ultracompetitive.”

“I think a lot of the answers are in that locker room,” Quinn said. “If we can get everybody to be just a little bit better. We’re not asking a guy to go from five goals to 40. We’re not asking a guy to do a thing he’s not capable of doing. But what we want everybody to do is do the things they can do just a little bit better.

“If you’ve got 23 people being five to 10 percent better, that’s the difference between making the playoffs and not.”

Photo courtesy: Amanda Cain/San Jose Sharks

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