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Chester County Press

In goal: Local hockey sensation aiming for the big time

07/11/2023 11:45AM ● By Richard Gaw
Sixteen year-old Patrick Quinlan of Kennett Square was recently selected to play for the U.S.A. National Under-17 Hockey Team.   Courtesy photo

By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer 

At the conclusion of the last game of every National Hockey League season, the goalie for every Stanley Cup champion eventually wrestles control of the exceptionally large trophy from his fellow teammates and cradles it like a baby to his chest, and then hoists it high above him in celebration, as his teammates follow him around the ice.

It is the pinnacle moment of a hockey player’s dream, for kids from the Back Bay in Boston to those skating on frozen lakes in Minnesota and Winnipeg and Manitoba. It is also the dream for a 16-year-old goalie from Kennett Square, and even at this early stage of Patrick Quinlan’s journey to eventually play in the NHL, it is already well within the realm of possibility.

In April, Quinlan became one of only two Pennsylvanians to be selected for this year’s U.S.A. National Under-17 Hockey Team, and along with his parents Kevin and Tobi, he will depart for Plymouth, Mich. in late July for a two-year stint on the team.

‘Patrick had an early instinct for being in the net’

Unlike youngsters in New England and in the cold weather states of middle America, Patrick was not born with a hockey stick in his hand, but the wait wasn’t that long. Raised in Kennett Square, Patrick’s hockey life began at the age of five when he first began to skate at the Upland Country Day School rink, under the tutelage of Kevin, who also started playing hockey there. While Patrick also played youth baseball as a catcher, hockey became an early and immediate love; he learned the mechanics of the game from age 5 through 11 as a member at The Chester County Skating Club before joining Team Philadelphia for one season and two seasons with the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers. In his final season with the Jr. Flyers he turned back 95 percent of the shots fired at him for a goals against average (GAA) of 1.08 per game.

“At the mite level we would give all the kids who wanted to try goalie a chance and Patrick just really seemed to like it,” Kevin said.

For Patrick, learning hockey was far more than swatting away pucks; it was learning every aspect of the game, which meant frequently being asked by his father to move to forward or be inserted as a defenseman.

“Dr. Jack Cleveland, my coach at Upland, always said, ‘I want my goalie to be the best skater on the team,’” Kevin said. “It’s an old-school mentality, but it stuck with me, so I knew if Patrick was going to play goalie that playing other positions were going to help him.”

After two successful seasons as the goalie for Upland in his 8th and 9th grade years, Patrick transferred to Bishop Kearney in Rochester, N.Y., where he excelled in the net for the BK Selects, leading the 15 pure team to a quarterfinal finish at the USA Hockey National Championships. A season highlight came at the prestigious Wendy Dufton Tournament in London, Ontario where he registered five shutouts and helped earn the team the tournament win. In 48 games with the Selects 15 pure squad in the 2022-23 season, he complied a 1.63 GAA mark that helped lead the team to a 54-14-7 record.

Patrick’s stock continued to rise, not only on the ice but in the eyes of the scouts who were witnessing his talent. In March, Patrick made it to the final tryouts for the U.S. National Team Development Program’s under-17 team. He was far from alone; Patrick was competing with 20,000 other young hockey players from around the country in the hopes of earning one of 23 coveted spots on the team.

When the final roster was posted, Patrick found that he was chosen as one of the team’s three goalies.

Pressure cooker of fight or flight

Now in its 26th season, USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program’ (NTDP) Under-17 Team plays in the United States Hockey League, the only Tier I junior hockey league in the U.S., against select competition in the North American Hockey League and Minnesota Elite League. Each season, the U-17 Team – which plays its home games at the USA Hockey Arena -- also competes in three international tournaments.

It’s not only a hotbed of competition, it’s an incubator program for college hockey programs, and several former players dot the rosters of Division I teams. In short, it’s a pressure-cooker of fight or flight, an atmosphere that is familiar for those who grew up in major hockey regions, but a slightly foreign one for Patrick, who will be competing in a 60-game schedule against players as much as four years older than him.

“We knew that Patrick was talented, but Kevin and I always asked what it will be like when he plays at the next level,” Tobi said. “He played well for Team Philadelphia, then the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers, and at Upland. Then he attended Bishop Kearney and he played well there, but at each stage there was added pressure.

“At tryouts for the National team, Patrick was competing against the best 22 goalies in the country in his age range, and it was clear that there was interest but there was a lot of pressure as well. Many of the other players have been followed for many years, but who was this kid from Kennett Square?”

While Kevin was responsible for first introducing his son to the fundamentals of the sport, Patrick has continued to learn under the guidance of his coaches at every level, including Matt Tendler. Known as “The Goalie Doctor,” Tendler accumulated 20 years as an amateur and professional goalie and brings decades of teaching to some of the best up-and-coming goalies in the youth, high school and college ranks.

“In the simplest of terms, Patrick is a competitor,” Tendler said. “He brings a level of commitment and dedication that is few and far between compared with many of his peers. He is a student of the game and loves the technical aspect of the position, but there is a competitive edge that allows him to establish a focus and manage his emotions.

“You put him in any situation and he just wants to be the best. It has helped him stand apart from everyone else. He expects nothing less than his greatest effort, and that has allowed him to get noticed and recognized at the level he is at now.”

Preparing for Michigan

As he prepares for the next two years with the National Team – where he will average about four to five hours of practice a day -- Patrick is involved with a strenuous off-ice training regimen that keeps him in the gym four to five days a week for weight-lifting and cardio work. In an effort to perfect his hand-eye coordination, he practices juggling and dons a sensory reality goaltending mask.

“Instead of driving to a rink, I can literally put on a VR headset and stop pucks in my basement,” he said. “I have two hand controllers that represent my glove and my blocker and I can catch pucks. It’s a tool that has been great for me.”

Patrick won’t be the only Quinlan needing to make the adjustment from Kennett Square to Michigan. Kevin, who recently sold his Logical Living home-delivery produce company, will join with Tobi, a program manager for SoFi Bank who works remotely, at home near the arena.

“Tobi told me that if Patrick is chosen for the U.S. National Team, that we should move out there, and I agreed almost instantly,” Kevin said. “It was an easy and natural decision for us to make. Our son has this great opportunity, and we felt it was important for us to be a part of the journey and to support him.”

“Patrick is on the path to reach levels that we all dream about,” Tendler said. “The only person that is going to control his destiny is going to be him, but he has all of the attributes to be a high-level athlete.”

After he completes his two years with the U.S. National Team, Patrick hopes to play at the collegiate level for a major hockey program, and then be drafted by an NHL team. Each of his goals is set one season at a time, but by the time he reaches his early twenties, his ultimate goal is to be wearing the uniform of an NHL team.

“To get to the NHL will take an incredible amount of work, but I have always said that I will do whatever it takes to play in the NHL, and to achieve my goals. All I can focus on is doing what I can control, and what I can control is putting in 110 percent every single day in order to get better. If I keep doing what I have been doing, I will achieve that goal.

“A lot of what will get me there will be poise, to stay calm and not let anything negative affect me. It’s something that has helped me get to new levels of hockey.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].