NEW YORK — David Quinn had been contacted by other NHL teams in recent years and chose to remain at Boston University. When the New York Rangers came calling, it was different.
As talks with general manager Jeff Gorton and assistant GM Chris Drury — both of whom he has known for many years — progressed, he knew it was time to make the move.
“It just seemed like a natural fit,” Quinn said Thursday when he was introduced as the Rangers’ coach at Madison Square Garden. “I’m 52 years old, and at this point in my life, to be able to be the head coach of the New York Rangers was an opportunity I could not pass up.”
Quinn led the Terriers to four NCAA tournament appearances in five seasons, including a trip to the national title game in 2015.
“This was a hard decision because of my love and passion for Boston University. It was an incredible opportunity for five years,” he said. “This is really the only situation I would have left Boston University for.”
Quinn spent the lockout-shortened 2013 NHL season as an assistant on Joe Sacco’s staff with the Colorado Avalanche, and also coached in the American Hockey League. Now, he becomes the 35th head coach in franchise history, replacing Alain Vigneault, who was fired April 7 just hours after the Rangers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Gorton said he considered five to 10 people for the vacancy but ruled out veteran NHL coaches while looking for someone to relate to the team’s younger players as it goes through a rebuilding mode.
Quinn was high on his list from the beginning.
“We were looking for somebody with fresh ideas, a fresh approach,” Gorton said. “It just kept coming back to David as the guy we wanted and could see as we move forward with the Rangers and do what we have to do.
“The things that stick out for us were obviously his communication skills will be important as we move forward. His feel for the game, the way he wants to play has meshed well with what we want to do here.”
Through his discussions with Gorton and Drury, Quinn said he also felt they “seemed to be on the same page.”
“Every time they said, ‘This is what we’re looking to do,’ I would say to myself, ‘I do that. That’s kind of my coaching DNA,'” he said. “As time went on it just seemed more of a natural fit.”
The new coach stressed practices will be hard with an eye toward improvement and that players should come in with that mindset.
“I like to think I’m fair and demanding,” Quinn said. “There’s no gray area with me with players. They want to get better, they want to be held accountable, but the message has to be this is in your best interest. This is not about me being the big, tough coach. It’s about me letting them know everything that we’re doing is to make them better players.”
Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who played at BU when Quinn was an assistant there and also under him with Lake Erie of the AHL, agreed with the coach’s assessment.
“He treats players with a lot of respect but he expects you to show up to work every day and he wants to work on something every day,” Shattenkirk said. “I think that’s something that we need here.”
The Rangers made the playoffs in four of five seasons under Vigneault, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014. This past season, they finished last in the Metropolitan Division, 20 points out of the Eastern Conference’s two wild-card spots while missing the postseason for the first time since 2010.
Though several key players were dealt at the trading deadline in a youth movement, there is still plenty of talent on the roster, including veteran goalie Henrik Lundqvist, forwards Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes and Mika Zibanejad, and defensemen Shattenkirk and Brady Skjei.
“There’s a lot of good core players here, older and younger,” Shattenkirk said. “A lot of them, they’re young but they have NHL experience. We’re not bringing in a lot of 18- and 19-year-olds who don’t know what the lay of the land is in the league.”
Gorton said he and Quinn have begun compiling a list of potential assistant coaches, but there is no timetable for filling out the staff. The status of Lindy Ruff, hired as an assistant under Vigneault last year, has not been determined.
Shattenkirk, recovering from surgery on his left knee in January, said his rehab is on schedule and he could start skating in a month and be ready for training camp in September.