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Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Panthers move on from Joel Quenneville’s scandal-tainted exit

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DETROIT — It felt almost like parody when Andrew Brunette was asked who would start in net for the Florida Panthers on Friday.

Sitting in a room off the loading dock of Little Caesars Arena on Friday afternoon ahead of the Panthers’ game against the Red Wings, these sorts of questions — who’s in, who’s out for a team that currently holds the best record in hockey — were a level below secondary.

Brunette, the interim head coach for the Panthers after Joel Quenneville’s resignation on Thursday, has the unseemly job of dealing with an earthquake’s aftershock.

“You know, it’s been a whirlwind for obviously everybody involved,” Brunette said. “It’s been a real sad day for everyone in hockey. Kyle Beach, everything he’s gone through, we really feel for him.”

Quenneville resigned after coaching the Panthers to a win on Wednesday night, bringing their record to 7-0-0 on the season. Beach, as part of an interview on TSN in which he revealed his identity as video coordinator Brad Aldrich’s alleged victim, said, “There is absolutely no way [Quenneville] can deny knowing it.” Beach said that meetings were held in Quenneville’s office in the aftermath of the incident.

Brunette, who now takes the reigns, played in the NHL for 16 years, the last of those under Quenneville for the 2011-12 Blackhawks. Before getting hired in Florida in 2019, he worked as an assistant coach and assistant general manager for the Wild.

Andrew Brunette talks to the Panthers' Aleksander Barkov
Andrew Brunette talks to the Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov
Getty Images

Now, he’s in limbo — “just day to day,” he said of his job status — for as long as it takes for the Panthers to sift through the wreckage.

On Friday morning, he was asked how he’s handling the events of this week. Brunette knew Quenneville, and got opportunities because of him.

“To be honest with you, I said it earlier, I’m just trying to process,” Brunette said. “It’s been a whirlwind and I wish I could give you a better answer. It’s been — I can’t even explain to you. Again, I understand the bigger issue here right now is Kyle. We don’t need this in hockey anymore and that’s the bigger issue.”

Joel Quenneville on the Panthers' bench on October 27, the day before he resigned
Joel Quenneville on the Panthers’ bench on October 27, the day before he resigned
NHLI via Getty Images

That was the approach from Panthers stars Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau, too: Keep the focus on Beach, the victim in all of this. Keep hockey, and their personal relationship to Quenneville, in the backseat.

Huberdeau said that Quenneville didn’t say anything to the team about the situation before leaving.

“It was almost like he took care of it,” Huberdeau said.

Ekblad first watched Beach’s interview after the Bruins game, without prior knowledge of it.

“It’s just a situation I couldn’t imagine,” Ekblad said. “Being in that situation, having to deal with that and the emotions that follow. I wish the best for him and his recovery. … You’d like to think that nothing like that could happen to you and your team.”

Conspicuously absent from these press conferences were phrases like “focus on hockey.” The Panthers have a game Friday night. They would like to stay undefeated, and paid lip service when asked about it. One doesn’t get the sense that’s where their focus is.

All things considered, that seems appropriate.

“We’re all humans here,” Ekblad said. “There’s things more important than hockey.”

A lesson their former coach never learned. And one the sport needs to learn.

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