The quintessential coach
No coach won more games, no coach won more Stanley Cups, and no coach did it better than Scotty Bowman
Randy Sportak
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June 19, 2017
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Scotty Bowman has been part of 14 Stanley Cup championship teams, and each one of those titles holds a place in his heart and cherished home in his mind.

A few of those victories – and the ring which came with them – do elicit some extra emotion now that the man deemed the greatest coach in hockey history can take time to look back at them all.

A couple of his prized wins are obvious, but another stands out by being part of an incredible trifecta.

“The first Cup you win as a coach (in 1973) is something that’s extra special. I’m thinking it’s the same thing as a player. We were in Montreal, and there was a lot of pressure to win and it was kind of an upset win,” Bowman said while taking a trip down a trophy-filled memory lane. “And the last Cup (as a head coach) in 2002 with Detroit means a lot because I knew it was going to be the last team I was going to coach.

“But the year I cherish the most, strangely enough, is 1976. In the spring, we won the Stanley Cup by beating Philadelphia, who had won two Cups in a row, and beat them in four straight. They won two in a row with a different kind of hockey, they were a tough team and it was a tough series, but we won in four games.

“So we won the Cup in the spring, and in the fall we won the Canada Cup, and then in early October our twins (Robert and Nancy) were born. In fact, my wife was in hospital while the last two weeks of the Canada Cup was on.

“A Stanley Cup in May, a Canada Cup in September and then twins in October. You’re not going to have another year like that.”

Oh yes, the Canada Cup. It may seem a surprise, but that ’76 tournament – the first true best-on-best event with teams representing Canada, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Sweden and the United States, which Canada won in thrilling fashion – is one of only two times Bowman was the bench boss for the national team, the other being the less-memorable 1981 tourney.

And what a squad he had to guide in the inaugural Canada Cup, loaded with Hockey Hall of Fame inductees at every position, including the likes of Rogie Vachon, Phil Esposito, Lanny McDonald, Bobby Clarke, Marcel Dionne, Darryl Sittler and Bobby Hull (the lone player from the World Hockey Association invited to play; “It was lucky we had him, too, because the games were close,” Bowman recalled) to name a few of the goaltenders and forwards.

The real strength, though, was on the blue-line, with a crew of Bobby Orr, Larry Robinson, Denis Potvin, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and Jimmy Watson, who is the lone defenceman from that collection not in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“We had a hell of defence corps,” said Bowman, who was inducted into the Hall himself in 1991. “Bobby, he wasn’t 100 per cent. He had such a short career, started in the NHL in ’66 and had knee problems within three or four years and I bet he played the last four or five years having surgeries and having to get over them, but he was fantastic in that series. He was some player, that’s for sure.”

And, amazingly, just one of the hundreds of great players Bowman coached through his storied career, which is now adding one more accolade. He is part of the Class of 2017 of the Order of Hockey in Canada, alongside longtime Canadian Amateur Hockey Association and Hockey Canada president Murray Costello, as well as Ontario Women’s Hockey Association president and CEO Fran Rider, who has been a driving force for women’s hockey for more than 40 years.

“It’s a nice honour to get when you’re not involved,” said Bowman, 83, whose coaching career also included stints with the expansion St. Louis Blues (who he guided to three consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Final), Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins (with whom he won another Cup in 1991) and Detroit Red Wings, who he coached to three more crowns.

Now, the NHL’s all-time winningest coach, with 1,244 regular season victories and another 233 in the playoffs, keeps his hands in the game as senior advisor of hockey operations for the Chicago Blackhawks, working with his son, Stan, the club’s senior vice-president and general manager.

At heart, though, he remains a coach, one who was incredibly successful through five decades and amidst many changes to the game, among them the eventual evolution to a more skill-oriented style which followed the first Canada Cup tournament thanks to the European influence.

“Wingers used to stay on their own side because that’s how hockey was played. And not many before Bobby Orr that can I remember played the way he did, carrying the puck up the ice,” Bowman recalled.

“When we started playing the Europeans, they grew up on the bigger ice surface, and had a different style. They would fly guys out of the defensive zone, had players cutting across the ice, and that was the start of wingers not just staying on their own wing. It was something for the NHL to pick up.

It just took time to implement a new style.

“We tried it a little bit in Montreal, but because we had such good teams, we were reluctant to change much,” said Bowman, who recalls a conversation with the great Russian coach Anatoli Tarasov in the mid-1970s, during which he was told the Canadiens could adopt the more wide-open style.

“We had defencemen who could pass the puck a lot and go up the ice, but didn’t need to make stretch passes or have them join the rush like that.

“The players didn’t really want to change. When you’re winning, why do it, and that made a lot of sense.”

For more information:

Lisa Dornan
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-777-4557 / 403-510-7046 (mobile)
ldornan@hockeycanada.ca

 

Morgan Bell
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6427
mbell@hockeycanada.ca

 

Esther Madziya
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
emadziya@hockeycanada.ca

 

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