Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Scotty Bowman
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One on One with Scotty Bowman
Scotty poses beside his five Stanley Cup replica trophies won during his days with the Montreal Canadiens.
(April 18, 2003) -- The Globe and Mail stated, "Bowman (is) a pivotal player in the way the culture and tactics of the game have evolved." A superb strategist and equally adept motivator, Scotty Bowman will forever be regarded as one of the greatest coaches in the history of the National Hockey League.

Born William Scott Bowman on September 18, 1933 in Verdun, Quebec, he was known as Scotty for as long as he can remember. Although readily acknowledged as one of the NHL's most superb coaches, Scotty's original design was not to coach, but to play professional hockey. Regarded as a fine checking leftwinger, Scotty was part of the Montreal Canadiens' system beginning in 1947. By 1950-51, Bowman was playing occasionally with the Montreal Junior Canadiens and by the next season, he joined the team on a regular basis. But on March 6, 1952, during a playoff game against the Trois-Rivieres Reds, Bowman was struck on the head by the stick of Jean-Guy Talbot. "I was injured playing junior hockey in Montreal and I continued to play but I wasn't at the same level," recalls Bowman. Debunking the myth that Scotty suffered a career-ending skull fracture that necessitated the insertion of a plate in his skull, Bowman suffered a five inch gash to his scalp and took fourteen stitches to close the cut. He missed a single game, returning to the Junior Canadiens lineup to continue their run through the playoffs. States Scotty, "I was never the same player afterward. I just didn't have the confidence. I had a lot of headaches and blurred vision." Bowman moved over to the Montreal Royals for the next two seasons, taking him to the conclusion of his junior career.

Although one career concluded, another was born. "I got involved with coaching minor hockey in my hometown. Montreal had moved in and sponsored some minor hockey teams and I was able to coach a couple of teams one year and that started my coaching career," relates Scotty. But while he sold paint for Sherwin-Williams during the day, he was motivated to take his coaching career further. During lunch hours, he dropped into the Montreal Forum to watch the Canadiens practice. "In 1955-56, I coached a Junior B team that had nothing to do with Montreal. Then, the Junior Canadiens moved from Montreal to Ottawa in 1956 and I went to Ottawa. That was my first full-time coaching job. I was assistant manager and assistant coach." Working with Sam Pollock, the Junior Canadiens went to the Memorial Cup finals in consecutive seasons, winning the trophy in 1957-58 against the Regina Pats. "I was in Ottawa for two years, and then I got my first job alone in 1958 in Peterborough." The Petes, an affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens, went to the Memorial Cup final in Bowman's first season behind the bench. Scotty coached the Peterborough Petes for two additional seasons. In 1961, Scotty Bowman was given the position of chief scout of amateur talent in the east, then in 1963, briefly coached the Omaha Knights of the Central Hockey League, scouted for the Junior Canadiens and finished the season coaching the junior NDG Monarchs. The following season, Scotty was given the role of coaching the Montreal Junior Canadiens.

The NHL expanded in time for the initiation of the 1966-67 season. But teams were not just scouring the hockey landscape for good on-ice talent; they were also trying to uncover strong coaching and management personnel. Scotty Bowman, although a burgeoning star in the Montreal Canadiens' system, was one of those given an opportunity through the league's expansion. "Montreal was a very strong team at the time. Toe Blake was coaching. I got a chance to go to the NHL when they expanded. It's hard to turn down a chance to get into the NHL. I was coaching the Junior Canadiens who had moved back to Montreal. I got the opportunity to go to St. Louis from Lynn Patrick. He was going to be the general manager, and I coached his son Craig in junior hockey in Montreal. When he got the job with the Blues, he hired me as his assistant. I decided I really should take a chance. I was fortunate the league expanded and I got an opportunity to get to one of the expansion franchises."

Employing the hockey acumen of the veteran Patrick and Bowman, the upstart St. Louis Blues assembled as strong a team as any of their peers. "We had a lot of good, experienced players in St. Louis. (When expansion took place), the existing teams were allowed to keep eleven players (plus two goalkeepers), which allowed the expansion teams to get some of their talent. We got a few who were playing in the NHL, but a lot of the players we were able to draft came from the minor leagues. That was the case with Al Arbour. We had to make some trades to get players like Red Berenson and Barclay Plager. They both came over in a trade with New York and became important players with our team." The Blues reflected Bowman's keen eye for talent and strong sense of loyalty. Red Berenson, Jimmy Roberts, Noel Picard, Barclay Plager and Terry Gray had all been juniors in the Montreal organization while Scotty Bowman was there, while Dickie Moore and Doug Harvey had been all-stars with the parent Canadiens while Bowman was with the junior clubs. Bill McCreary, Larry Keenan and Ron Stewart were opponents Bowman remembered well from his days coaching junior. And in an ironic twist, Scotty certainly remembered defenseman Jean-Guy Talbot, too. It was his stick that nearly ended Bowman's playing career. "We took a lot of players we knew," nods Bowman. Lynn Patrick relinquished the coaching role to Bowman on November 22, 1967, and Scotty added the general manager's portfolio in 1968-69. The St. Louis Blues went to the Stanley Cup finals in each of their first three seasons under Bowman's command.

Scotty Bowman with fellow Honoured Member Guy Lapointe during Montreal's 1970s domination of the NHL.
In 1971-72, Sam Pollock convinced Scotty to return to the Canadiens' organization. "It was great to go back to Montreal and in the back of your mind, you think about their tradition of winning Stanley Cups," relates Bowman. "We had a lot of great young players. That was a team that was built mostly from the draft. We picked up Guy Lafleur along with Larry Robinson in '71. It seemed every year thereafter for three or four years we were getting two or three young players who made the team, guys like Steve Shutt and Bob Gainey. In those days, it was different because you were getting most of your players from the draft, not like today. There weren't any free agents at the time. Fortunately, after my second year, we won the Stanley Cup."

It was the first of nine Stanley Cup celebrations for Scotty Bowman. It was also the beginning of a particularly successful time in Montreal's hockey history. After winning the Stanly Cup in 1973, the Canadiens missed the finals the next two seasons, but proceeded to win the Stanley Cup in four consecutive seasons between 1976 and 1979. Scotty remembers the dynasty very well. "It was a young team that kind of gelled together and we had all the components needed. We had terrific defensemen, top scoring and a team that just seemed to get better from one season to the next. We lost very few games over the four year span. In 1975-76, we lost eleven. The next year, we lost eight and the year after that, we only lost 11. The team was hungry and once they started winning in 1976, that's all they wanted to do. It was a tremendous team. We had a lot of players who are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame." In fact, the team had no fewer than nine skaters now in the Hockey Hall of Fame - Yvan Cournoyer, Ken Dryden, Bob Gainey, Guy Lafleur, Guy Lapointe, Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson and Serge Savard. The coach of that dynasty was also inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Scotty Bowman was elected in 1991.

Scotty mans the Sabres bench behind players Don Luce and captain Danny Gare.
Although coming off a Stanley Cup victory, Scotty Bowman left the organization and joined the Sabres as coach, general manager and director of player-personnel. "I got a good offer from Buffalo and my wife is from the United States so it made a lot of sense at the time. We had won in Montreal and I had capitalized on that and I was ready to start a new phase in my career. I was able to do some general managing and that was interesting." Scotty told the press at the time, "I only hope I can give to the Sabres what the Canadiens gave me to work with. The players in Montreal made me what I am today."

Buffalo enjoyed some of its finest successes with Scotty Bowman behind the bench. The French Connection - Gilbert Perreault, Richard Martin and Rene Robert - were at the zenith of their ice wizardry. Bowman relinquished the coaching position with the Sabres on four occasions, but each time, either maintained control or fired the coach shortly into his tenure. Then, during the 1986-87 season, Scotty Bowman was relieved of all responsibilities by the Buffalo Sabres' owners. Scotty finished the decade working as a colour commentator on 'Hockey Night in Canada.'

Woven into the Scotty Bowman story over and over again is the recurring theme of loyalty. In 1989-90, Scotty Bowman returned to the NHL, joining the Pittsburgh Penguins as Director of Player Personnel. The executive who hired him was Craig Patrick. Patrick had played for Scotty Bowman on the Montreal Junior Canadiens. Craig's father Lynn had been quick to notice the excellent instruction given his son by Bowman, and when the NHL expansion took place in 1967, Lynn Patrick had hired Bowman in St. Louis. Now, twelve years later, the prodigy was turning to his mentor for support. "Craig Patrick had just signed their coach, Bob Johnson, and I got the opportunity to go in player development. It made a lot of sense. I was looking at getting back in the NHL and the job appealed to me because my kids were going to school in Buffalo and this was an opportunity for me to work out of my home in Buffalo, which I did the first year. I was watching NHL games and we made a good trade towards the deadline, picking up Ronnie Francis and Ulf Samuelsson from Hartford. That completed our team and we won the Cup in the first year. Unfortunately, Bob Johnson got sick during the second year and they were looking for someone to keep the job for him until he recovered. I took the job on an interim basis but Bob died during the season. Bob was a wonderful man and a great coach and brought a winning attitude to the team. He got the most out of the best players. What he brought to the team more than anything was the positive attitude he always had. It was a tragic year when he got sick after winning the Cup. We were struggling at the beginning and Craig Patrick asked me to stay on and I did. We made another good trade that year and picked up Rick Tocchet from Philadelphia and that helped trigger another Cup. The third year, we had the best team we ever had but we got knocked out. Mario Lemieux had some injuries but I was there for his comeback from Hodgkin's and it was a wonderful stretch - two years of coaching and one year as Director of Player Personnel."

Jimmy Devellano had been a scout for the St. Louis Blues franchise at its inception and got to know Scotty Bowman and his talents well. In 1981, Devellano joined the Detroit Red Wings as general manager, and revamped a troubled franchise. When looking for a coach to start the 1993-94 season, Devellano hired Scotty Bowman. "Detroit was a different era for me because free agency had arrived in the NHL. A lot of people look at those Detroit teams and figure we bought most of the players, but we got a lot of the top players like Lidstrom and Fedorov and Yzerman through the draft. We had terrific ownership. We had a great season in '95, followed up by that great 62-win season (in 1995-96), but we didn't win the Cup either year. Then we won it in '97. It just seemed that the team grew up. The younger players were then more than just rookies and there were a lot of good role players. It was strange, but we won three Cups with three different goalies. That was unusual for a team. And a big thing was the great support of the fans."

Scotty hoists the Cup at the Red Wings
2002 Stanley Cup parade.
Prior to Bowman's first Stanley Cup celebration in Detroit in 1997, the Red Wings had been without the Cup since 1955. A 42-year wait is a hockey eternity, but once the city tasted champagne once, it wanted the celebratory drink again. The revitalized franchise energized Detroit, and winning the Stanley Cup back-to-back in 1997 and 1998 only stirred Hockeytown's emotions. A dynamic team looked like it was destined to dynasty, but the Red Wings did not win the Stanley Cup again until 2002. "I knew that was going to be my last season. Around February, I had made the decision in my own mind that that would be it. In the playoffs, I was hoping we could make it a winning season but nothing is guaranteed. We recovered from a pretty tough first round with Vancouver and the team just got stronger. I didn't want to make an announcement during the playoffs where the focus would have been 'Could this be his last game?' I had no problem keeping the decision to myself." One of the poignant scenes that played itself out on the ice following the presentation of the Stanley Cup was seeing Scotty Bowman out on the ice surface wearing skates and letting his players know that he had retired. "Once it was over and we won the Cup, I didn't want to drag it on any more. I'll always remember my years in Detroit but I feel fortunate being able to go out with a winning team. Most coaches don't get that opportunity to win that last game. I know Toe Blake had done it in 1968. That was going to be his last season and they won the Stanley Cup for him. It was the crowning touch to my coaching career and I'm very pleased I made the right decision."

With nothing left to prove, Scotty Bowman retired from active NHL management after the Stanley Cup celebration in 2002 with an unprecedented hockey resume. Bowman is the winningest coach in NHL history with 1,244 (as well as 583 losses and 314 ties). His winning percentage is an astonishing .654. In the playoffs, Bowman was simply an alchemist, turning 223 wins and just 130 losses into nine Stanley Cup wins, more than any other coach in NHL history. Scotty Bowman was selected as an Honoured Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991, but leaves a legacy that will remain as long as the game of hockey is played.

Kevin Shea is co-author of several hockey biographies. His most recent book is "Over The Boards - The Ron Ellis Story" (H.B. Fenn), released November 2002.