Scotty Bowman, 81, still one of hockey's sharpest minds
In this 2011 file photo, Scotty Bowman works away inside the office of his Amherst, NY. (JIM COURTNEY/STR/QMI AGENCY)
The NHL’s all-time winningest coach is standing outside the Chicago Blackhawks dressing room at the Amalie Arena with his arms folded, wearing a Cheshire cat grin, watching the chaos going on all around him.
Something is churning in that brilliant, complex, calculating, sometimes eccentric mind of Scotty Bowman.
It’s obvious. You can just tell.
It is 11:03 local time here Wednesday night and the Chicago Blackhawks — the team his son Stan primarily built — has just beaten the host Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, thanks to a pair of goals in the final seven minutes that helped snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The Hawks comeback has been engineered not by Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane, but by a 20-year-old Finnish rookie named Teuvo Teravainen, who scored the equalizer on a seeing-eye shot from the top of the faceoff circle, then set up Antoine Vermette’s winner by creating a turnover deep in the Tampa Bay end.
Now, as Teravainen is being led past us to a nearby interview room, Scotty Bowman finally reveals what’s going on between those 81-year-old ears.
“Did you see the way Teravainen knocked the puck off the stick of that Tampa player (J.T. Brown) that led to that Vermette goal?” Bowman asks. “He’s got a great ability to do that. He reminds me of Igor Larionov the way he can do that.”
Scotty Bowman is right, of course. When it comes to hockey, he is right about most things. And you can bet that, in this arena filled with about 20,000 fans, media and workers, only he could see a bit of Igor Larionov in Teuvo Teravainen.
It’s that type of insight that makes Scotty Bowman a secret weapon of sorts.
In his role as senior advisor of hockey operations for the Blackhawks, it just so happens that Scotty Bowman has been on hand for 25 of the Lightning’s 41 home games during the regular season. With his home in the Sarasota area less than an hour away, coming to Tampa to watch games is quite convenient, whether it be to scout the opposition or get a handle on Steven Stamkos and his mates.
The fact that the Lightning has ended up being the Hawks opposition in the final is a bonus, at least in terms of getting a scouting report from a man who has made winning Stanley Cups a national pastime.
How much or how little his son uses that information, only Scotty and Stan know for sure. But it’s there for the taking when needed.
“He’s seen this team play quite a bit,” Stan Bowman, 41, said. “He lives down here in the wintertime. He’s got a pretty good handle on it.
“He had a first-hand viewing of this team many times. He’s given us some of his thoughts.”
What are some of those “thoughts” pertaining to the Lightning, which trails the Blackhawks 1-0 entering Game 2 on Saturday?
“Their defence is underrated,” Scotty Bowman said Thursday, offering a scouting report. “I think the biggest improvement is defence. (Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman) picked up Stralman, he picked up (Jason) Garrison and he traded for (Braydon) Coburn.
“The (Victor) Hedman-(Anton) Stralman tandem is as good as I’ve seen.”
That duo certainly lived up to its billing in Game 1.
Matched up against the Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane-Brandon Saad unit in the first period, Hedman and Stralman shut down Toews and Kane to the extent that coach Joel Quenneville finally split up his dynamic duo in the second period.
“They do have the ability for scoring on the two lines too,” Bowman continued. “The first series, they played Stamkos at centre. Now, after they moved him to wing with (Valtteri) Filppula and (Alex) Killorn, they’ve been better. If you concentrate on the (Tyler) Johnson line then you’ve got the other line.
“(Stamkos) is a hell of a goal scorer.”
He’ll have to be if the Lightning want to get back in this series and keep the Bowmans from adding to their cache of Stanley Cup victories. To date, Scotty has 13, Stan has two. Should the Hawks go on to hoist hockey’s Holy Grail, it would up the family total to 17.
Amazing, isn’t it?
Think about it. You and I wait for summer to come so we can have delicious backyard barbeques. The Bowmans wait for summer so they can celebrate more Cup triumphs. It’s almost become the norm.
Of course, when it comes to Scotty and Stan, they’ve achieved success through different methods. In terms of father and son, this really is a Tale of Two Bowmans.
“He’s pretty analytical more than he’s off the wall,” Scotty Bowman said.
In saying that, is Scotty insinuating he himself has been “off the wall” at times?
That might be stretching things a bit. But there is no doubt that when it came to playing mind games with players, Scotty Bowman was the master.
Bowman confirmed a story making the rounds that, back in 1996, a young Swedish forward named Tomas Holmstrom, having barely made the Red Wings training camp roster, asked to have a high number.
“We can’t give you higher than 91, which is the number Sergei Fedorov wears,” Bowman told Holmstrom.
“Why not?” asked the Swede.
In response, Holmstrom was given No. 96, which caused him to wonder why.
“Because that’s the year we’re cutting you and sending you home,” Bowman said.
As for son Stan, such tactics are not part of his repertoire.
“He’s good at analyzing things,” Scotty said of Stan, who graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1995 with degrees in Finance and Computer Applications.
“In his job, you’re always thinking about the future.”
When it comes to the future, both father and son are grateful that Stan still has one of any kind.
In 2007, Stan Bowman was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes. The cancer went into remission after chemotherapy, but reappeared in early 2008, necessitating a stem cell transplant, radiation and more chemotherapy.
“He’s had two bouts with it,” Scotty said. “That’s why I actually came to the Hawks (in 2008). Otherwise I would not have left Detroit.”
Fortunately, Stan’s cancer once again has been in remission the past few years.
“Right now, so far so good,” Scotty said. “But it was tough. He was sick and he was still trying to work. Those people amaze you. Look at (Senators GM) Bryan Murray. Still working.”
Right now, the focus of both Bowmans is on the Cup. Just three more wins, and the Hawks will hoist the shiny mug for the third time in five years.
And keep this in mind. Few people are more in tune with the Cup than the Bowmans. Stan Bowman, after all, was named after the Stanley Cup right after his dad had won his first one as coach of the Habs in the early 1970s.
That Scotty Bowman doesn’t miss a trick, does he?