Canadian hockey coach
Scotty Bowman is the most successful professional hockey coach in history, winning an unprecedented nine Stanley Cup Championships in a career that spanned thirty-four years. It is a record that may never be surpassed. Bowman, who retired at age sixty-eight after the 2001-02 season, also holds records for the most regular-season games coached (2,141); most wins in the regular season (1,244); and most wins in the playoffs (223). He is the only NHL coach to lead three different teams to the Stanley Cup. Bowman's success reaches beyond hockey and the NHL, however. He is one of the best coaches of any sport or any era—in a class with football's George Halas and Vince Lombardi , basketball's Arnold 'Red' Auerbach , and baseball's Casey Stengel and Connie Mack . Sports Illustrated took that a step further in 1998, proclaiming Bowman the best coach ever in any of North America's major professional sports. The magazine noted that no other coach has been as successful with as many teams or as many generations of athletes. Bowman's ability to adapt—to both the conditions of a particular game and to changing times—was remarkable given his demanding, churlish nature. "He started coaching guys who had summer jobs and crew cuts, and now he's coaching guys with Ferraris, earrings, blond streaks and agents," said Brendan Shanahan, who played for—and won three Stanley Cups with—Bowman in Detroit.
Influences and injury
William Scott Bowman was born September 18, 1933, in Montreal, Quebec, the second of John and Jane Bowman's four children. The Bowmans emigrated to Canada from Scotland and raised their family in a tenement in Verdun, a working-class Montreal suburb. Scotty inherited a relentless work ethic from his father, who never took a sick day in the thirty-one years he toiled as a blacksmith for the railroad. And he acquired a fiercely competitive nature from his mother, who would throw her cards in the fire when she lost a hand of euchre.
Verdun had dozens of skating rinks where, as a boy, Bowman learned to play hockey. By the age of seventeen, he was a promising forward with the Montreal Canadiens' junior team and a pro prospect. His dream of playing professional hockey was not to be, however. The end came during the final minutes of a Junior A playoff game at the Montreal Forum in 1951. Bowman was on a breakaway toward the opposing goal with a defenseman named Jean-Guy Talbot in pursuit. Talbot, his team on the verge of elimination from the playoffs, swung his stick twice at Bowman in frustration. Bowman was struck in the head—none of the players wore helmets in those days—and lost a piece of his skull. He required a metal plate in his head. His playing days were over. He understood hockey's intense, sometimes violent nature, however, and never held a grudge. A few years later, Bowman was coaching the St. Louis Blues when the team added Talbot to its roster. Bowman coached him for three years.
From player to coach
After his injury, Bowman turned to the job that would consume him for the next half-century—coaching. He proved to be a prodigy. Starting in the youth leagues, Bowman coached twelve- and thirteen-year-old players, then quickly advanced to fourteen- and fifteen-yearolds. By the time he was twenty-one, Bowman was coaching twenty-year-old players at the Junior B level. The job paid only $250 a year, so he also worked for a paint company. On his lunch hour he walked five minutes to the Forum to watch the Montreal Canadiens practice—and to learn. The Junior Canadiens moved to Ottawa in 1956 and Sam Pollack, the coach and general manager, asked the 23-year-old Bowman to come along as his assistant. The team won the 1958 Memorial Cup, the top prize in junior hockey, and Bowman, just twenty-five years old, was named head coach of a Junior A team in Peterborough. After three years he became the Canadiens' head scout for eastern Canada, but found he missed being with a team. In 1963 he was back on the bench, coaching the Junior Canadiens. His office in the Forum was down the hall from the office occupied by legendary Canadiens coach Toe Blake , who would become Bowman's mentor. Blake led the Canadiens to eight Stanley Cups in thirteen seasons from 1955 to 1968—a record that would stand until Bowman won his ninth cup as head coach in 2002.
|1933||Born September 18 in Montreal, Quebec|
|1951||Head injury ends playing days, launches coaching career|
|1954||Briefly attends Sir George Williams Business School|
|1956||Becomes assistant to the coach and general manager of the Junior Canadiens|
|1958||Junior Canadiens win the Memorial Cup, the top prize in junior hockey|
|1958||Begins coaching Junior A team in Peterborough, Ontario|
|1961||Becomes scout for the Montreal Canadiens|
|1963||Returns to coaching with the Junior Canadiens, meets the legendary Toe Blake|
|1966||Joins the NHL's St. Louis Blues, an expansion team, as assistant coach for the upcoming 1967-68 hockey season|
|1967||Takes over as Blues' head coach and leads team to 1968 Stanley Cup finals, where they lose four straight games to Blake's Montreal Canadiens|
|1969||Marries Suella Belle Chitty on August 16; they will have five children|
|1969||Bowman-led Blues win Western Division title and advance to the Stanley Cup finals, but lose|
|1970||Blues again win division title but lose Stanley Cup championship|
|1970||Takes over as general manager of the Blues, in addition to coaching|
|1971||Becomes coach of the Montreal Canadiens|
|1973, 1976-79||Wins five Stanley Cups with the Canadiens|
|1977||Wins the Jack Adams Award for Best Coach|
|1979||Becomes head coach and general manager of the Buffalo Sabres|
|1987||Leaves the NHL|
|1987||Begins three-year stint as analyst on Hockey Night in Canada on CBC, the Canadian television network|
|1990||Joins Pittsburgh Penguins as director of player personnel and recruitment|
|1991||Penguins win the Stanley Cup|
|1991||Penguins' head coach Bob Johnson is diagnosed with brain cancer; Bowman is selected to succeed him|
|1991||Inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame|
|1992||Wins sixth Stanley Cup as head coach with Penguins|
|1993||Becomes coach of the Detroit Red Wings|
|1995||Coaches his 1,607th game on December 29, setting the NHL record.|
|1996||Wins the Jack Adams Award for Best Coach|
|1997||Wins seventh Stanley Cup with Red Wings|
|1997||Records his 1,000th career win on February 8|
|1998||Wins eighth Stanley Cup with Red Wings|
|1998||Undergoes heart angioplasty and knee reconstruction surgeries|
|2001||Wins the Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey in the United States|
|2002||Wins record ninth Stanley Cup with the Red Wings|
|2002||Retires from coaching; signs three-year contract to work for the Red Wings as a consultant|
Learning from a legend
Under Blake's tutelage, Bowman became a master of hockey strategy. "He knew how each of his players did against everyone else," Bowman told E.M. Swift of Sports Illustrated. "Certain guys do well against one team but not another. He was a good strategist and a good matchup man and wasn't afraid to sit guys out to change his ammunition." It was a lesson Bowman employed throughout his career. Another of Bowman's trademark tactics came from Blake, as well. He constantly changed lineups and on-ice schemes to slow down the opposition and keep them off balance. Bowman's unpredictability allowed him to stay one or two moves ahead of the opposing coach and control the game.
Bowman was only thirty-three when he rose to the pro ranks as assistant coach with the expansion St. Louis Blues, which entered the NHL in 1967. Sixteen games into the season, Blues coach and general manager Lynn Patrick asked Bowman to take over head coaching duties. The team was 4-12 when Bowman stepped in; they finished the season 23-21-14, good enough for third place and a playoff berth. Bowman orchestrated two seven-game upsets to lead the Blues to the 1968 Stanley Cup finals. They lost four straight one-goal games to Canadiens. It was Blake's final season and eighth Stanley Cup. Bowman and the Blues won the Western Division and advanced to the finals the next two years—but failed to win the Cup.
Five cups in Montreal
In 1971, Bowman was selected to coach the Canadiens by his old boss Sam Pollack, who had become Montreal's general manager. In the next eight years, Montreal racked up a remarkable 419-110-105 record for a .742 winning percentage and, more importantly, five Stanley Cups. Bowman was intense, demanding, unpredictable, and brilliant. He was respected by his players, but not liked. Montreal goalie Ken Dryden , in his excellent 1983 book The Game, wrote this: "Scotty Bowman is not someone who is easy to like…. Abrupt, straightforward, without flair or charm, he seems cold and abrasive, sometimes obnoxious, controversial but never colorful. He is not Vince Lombardi, tough and gruff with a heart of gold. His players don't sit and tell hateful-affectionate stories about him…. He is complex, confusing, misunderstood, unclear in every way but one. He is a brilliant coach, the best of his time." Canadiens star Steve Shutt put it this way: "You hated him 364 days years, and on the 365th day you got your Stanley Cup ring."
The road turns rocky
Bowman left the Canadiens in 1979 to become coach and general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. The team struggled during the seven years Bowman was there, never advancing beyond the conference finals in the playoffs. In his dual role, Bowman was spread too thin and grew tired of coaching. Three times he hired coaches to take over on the bench—Roger Neilson in 1981, Jimmy Roberts in '82, Jim Schoenfeld in '86—and three times he replaced them. In late 1986, he again gave up the coaching duties to focus on the general manager's job, but was fired soon after that.
For the next three years, Bowman worked as an analyst on Hockey Night in Canada. In 1990, he became director of player personnel for the Pittsburgh Penguins—a job that allowed him to stay in Buffalo with his family. He had married Suella Belle Chitty in 1969, and they had five children. Their second-oldest, David, was born with hydrocephalus and spent most of his life in an institution for the mentally handicapped.
Adapting to the modern game
Bowman worked well with Pittsburgh coach Bob Johnson, who was as upbeat and outgoing as Bowman was aloof and non-communicative. Johnson led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 1991, but the following summer he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Bowman was named interim coach and quickly realized that his demanding, disciplinarian style would not work with a team accustomed to Johnson's positive, laid back, nonconfrontational ways. The game had changed in the two decades since Bowman began his reign with the Canadiens, and he would have to change, as well. "I was aware that if I coached the way I had in the past it wouldn't have had the same results," he said. "I knew I had to be different." In the '92 playoffs, the Penguins won eleven straight games, a post-season record, and claimed their second straight Stanley Cup. It was Bowman's sixth as head coach.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1958||Memorial Cup, the top prize in junior hockey (as member of Junior Canadiens' coaching staff)|
|1969-70||Western Division title (St. Louis Blues)|
|1973, 1976-79||Stanley Cup (Montreal Canadiens)|
|1977||Jack Adams Award for Best Coach|
|1991||Stanley Cup (as director of player personnel with the Pittsburgh Penguins)|
|1991||Hockey Hall of Fame inductee|
|1992||Stanley Cup (as Penguins' head coach)|
|1993, 1996||Victor Award for NHL Coach of the Year|
|1996||Jack Adams Award for Best Coach|
|1997-98, 2002||Stanley Cup (Red Wings)|
|2001||Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey in the United States|
|2002||Retired from coaching with records for most Stanley Cup Championships as head coach (nine); most regular season wins (1,244); most playoff wins (223); most regular season games coached (2,141); and only coach to lead three different teams to the Stanley Cup.|
The greatest ever
In 1993, Bowman became head coach of the Detroit Red Wings, a team that had not won a championship since 1955. That would change. The Wings won back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998—and Bowman tied Blake with eight Stanley Cups. The record-breaking ninth title would be elusive, however, as the Wings struggled for the next three years. For the 2001-02 season, the team signed veteran superstars Dominik Hasek, Brett Hull , and Luc Robataille to a roster that already included future Hall-of-Famers Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov , Brendan Shanahan, and Chris Chelios . It was arguably the most talented hockey team ever assembled—and unquestionably the oldest with six players 35 or older. Bowman expertly blended these mammoth talents and led the Wings to their third cup in six years. "He has such a command of the game, and such a great command of his team that you are in awe," coach Paul Maurice said after Bowman beat his Carolina Hurricanes in the finals. Minutes after winning his ninth Stanley Cup and surpassing his old friend and teacher Toe Blake, Bowman announced his retirement.
Scotty Bowman was the first coach to use videotape to scout opposing teams. He was the first to demand his players track their plus-minus statistics to gauge their effectiveness on the ice. He was unsurpassed at mixing and matching his lineups. He made strategic changes at dizzying speed to keep the other team guessing. "Bowman's the best," Scott Andrea wrote for the Knight Ridder News Service, "because he was able to adapt his game to the different era, teams, players and styles so well." Brett Hull paid this tribute to Bowman: "It's like being coached by Red Auerbach or Bear Bryant. These are people who only came along once in a lifetime and to say he was your coach … it's hard to put into words."
Where Is He Now?
Scotty Bowman retired from coaching after the 2002 season—but he did not leave hockey or the Detroit Red Wings. He signed a three-year contract to continue working for the Wings in a new role—as a consultant. His responsibilities include assessing and analyzing the team and providing input on player personnel decisions. He reports to Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland. "Now," Bowman said shortly after starting his new job, "I can go to the games and I don't have to win them." He lives near Buffalo, N.Y., with his wife, Suella.
Address: c/o Detroit Red Wings, Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Drive, Detroit, MI 48226-4419. Phone:(313) 396-7444.
Albom, Mitch. "Why Scotty Finally Decided to Retire." Detroit Free Press (June 15, 2002).
Andera, Scott. Service "Bowman Leaves NHL with a Crown." Knight-Ridder News (June 14, 2002).
Farber, Michael. "Reign Men." Sports Illustrated (June 24, 2002): 42.
Farber, Michael. "That's Scotty!" Sports Illustrated (June 29, 1998): 64.
Gave, Keith. "Back Where He Belongs." Sporting News (November 2, 1998): 69
Lapointe, Joe. "Red Wings Win Back Stanley Cup." New York Times (June 14, 2002): D1.
Lapointe, Joe. "Bowman's Last Substitution? A Smile for a Scowl." New York Times (June 15, 2002): D4
Matheson, Jim. "The Wings After Scotty." Edmonton Journal (October 6, 2002): D10
Niyo, John. "Bowman Still Makes History." Detroit News (June 13, 2002): 8B
Swift, E. M. "Super Conductor." Sports Illustrated (May 10, 1993): 58
Hradek, E. J. "A Perfect Ending to a Perfect Career." ESPN The Magazine online (June 13, 2002) http://msn.espn.go.com/nhl/playoffs2002/s/hradek0613.html
Sketch by David Wilkins