Colliton takes over after Blackhawks fire Quenneville

CHICAGO (AP) – Jeremy Colliton knows all about Joel Quenneville’s legacy with the Chicago Blackhawks.

He thinks he knows what to do, too.

“I have a huge amount of respect for Joel,” Colliton said. “Those are huge shoes to fill. I won’t try to fill them. I’ve got to be myself. And we’re different people, so I’ll bring different things to the table, different ideas to the table.”

Chicago is hoping Colliton’s fresh perspective will help the team get back on track after he became the 38th head coach in franchise history on Tuesday, taking over when Quenneville was fired after a wildly successful run with the Blackhawks.

Colliton goes from Chicago’s American Hockey League affiliate in Rockford, Illinois, to the NHL’s youngest head coach at 33. Blackhawks forward Chris Kunitz, defenseman Duncan Keith and goaltenders Corey Crawford and Cam Ward are older than Colliton, and defenseman Brent Seabrook also is 33.

“I have to earn their trust by them believing that I can help them win, that I can help them be better individually, that we as a staff can put together a plan so they can have success,” Colliton said. “So if I can do that, there’s no problem. It doesn’t matter how old I am.”

Colliton and Seabrook played alongside each other when they were kids. Colliton also made 57 appearances with the New York Islanders over five seasons, playing in his final NHL game in 2011.

“Growing up, we sort of followed the same career path as kids,” Seabrook said, “played in the Western League against each other, played in the World Juniors together. When we were playing he had the same agent. A lot of connections there.

“So it was nice to see him come back to North America last year and get the job in Rockford. Sounds like he did some good things in Europe and with Rockford last year.”

But that’s a far cry from the situation he faces now, replacing Quenneville after he coached Chicago to three Stanley Cup titles and nine playoff appearances.

The move comes in the wake of a winless three-game trip, extending Chicago’s losing streak to five in a row heading into Thursday’s home game against Carolina. The power play, a persistent problem, ranked 27th in the NHL heading into Tuesday. The Blackhawks (6-6-3) also are allowing an unseemly 3.73 goals per game.

“A decision like this isn’t made on one game, one play, or one specific thing,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “It’s sort of a collection of things. Certainly the road trip was concerning. But I think even heading into that, there were some elements to our game where they weren’t where they needed to be.”

Assistants Kevin Dineen and Ulf Samuelsson also were let go. Barry Smith, 66, moved from Chicago’s front office to the bench as an assistant coach.

The 60-year-old Quenneville was the longest-tenured head coach in the NHL. He had another year left on a three-year contract extension he signed in 2016 that pays him $6 million per year, second highest in the NHL behind Mike Babcock in Toronto.

Whenever Quenneville wants to get back to work, he likely will have plenty of suitors.

The former NHL defenseman has 890 wins in 22 years as a head coach with St. Louis, Colorado and Chicago. Scotty Bowman, Stan’s father and a senior adviser with the Blackhawks, is the only man with more regular-season victories.

Quenneville took over Chicago four games into the 2008-09 season, replacing Denis Savard after the Hall of Famer was let go by former general manager Dale Tallon. What followed was an unprecedented run for one of the NHL’s Original Six franchises.

Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Keith and Seabrook blossomed with Quenneville behind the bench, and the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015. They also made it to the conference finals in 2009 and 2014.

“He’s going to be an icon in Chicago for the longest time, the great things he’s done for this organization, winning three Stanley Cups, so that will never be forgotten,” Kane said.

The pressure on Quenneville began to ramp up when Chicago was swept by Nashville in the first round of the 2017 playoffs after the Blackhawks finished with the best record in the Western Conference. Then they missed the playoffs entirely last season for the first time in a decade.

The change at coach turns up the heat on Bowman, who has made a couple of questionable moves that helped hasten the Blackhawks’ decline. He traded Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Teuvo Teravainen to Carolina in part because of salary-cap issues, and each player has put up big numbers with his new club.

“I believe in this roster, I believe in Stan,” team president John McDonough said. “Stan is meticulous, he’s very thorough and when you break down free agents, when you break down trades, some work, some don’t. You’d like most to go your way and over time, they may. But his body of work is excellent. I want him to succeed.”

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AP freelance reporter Matt Carlson contributed to this report.

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