Bowman to Pass Another Benchmark

He has been coaching in the NHL since Lyndon Johnson was in office. Since the city where he now works was putting out cars with big fins and bigger engines. Since his captain, Steve Yzerman, was a 2-year-old in British Columbia.

While the Kings were introducing Southern California to the NHL--and vice versa--by beating Philadelphia on Oct. 14, 1967, Scotty Bowman was putting the finishing touches on his first victory as an NHL coach, a 4-2 decision for St. Louis at Pittsburgh.

It was his third NHL game. On Friday, when Vancouver comes to call at Joe Louis Arena, he will coach his 2,000th.

Nobody has coached more in the NHL. Only two have in the NBA, Lenny Wilkens and Bill Fitch, and neither can match his 65.3% winning percentage or eight Stanley Cup championships.

He has 1,156 wins. The Kings have 1,032.

"He still has the drive he always did, and it's amazing to see how dedicated he is," says Larry Murphy, a former King and, at 39, the oldest of "the Geezer Wings." Murphy was in grammar school in Ontario when his coach went behind the Blues' bench; was still in grammar school when Bowman moved on to Montreal; was still in junior hockey when Bowman went to Buffalo; joined the coach in Pittsburgh and then played for him again in Detroit.

"It's incredible that he's been able to keep that determination and drive going for so many years."

Not so amazing, really.

It's what Bowman does. He would rather have been a winger and was a pretty good one as a kid in Verdun, a Montreal suburb, until a defender, Jean-Guy Talbot, cracked him in the head with a stick. Bowman still has the plate there as a reminder of why, at 18, he found himself coaching a midget team, a sort of Junior Canadiens.

He won, then and since. So driven to win was he, in fact, that he had Talbot on his first two St. Louis teams.

He had no assistant in 1967. The sticks were wood, goalie masks still a novelty. People wondered about talent being diluted by expansion to 12 teams, a move that gave Bowman a job.

Now there are 30 teams.

The game itself has changed.

"I came into the league about a year after Bobby Orr had started his career with Boston," Bowman says. "Up to that time, defensemen were not involved as much as they are . . . now."

And so the coach changed with the game. And with the times.

Always a devotee of information as power, at 67 he has evolved from the long-distance telephone to the Internet, seeking an opponent's injury to exploit. A lineup change. A hot goalie. A cold one. An advantage, any advantage to beat you.

His cell phone is seldom quiet. Six hours are enough to sleep, what with all that information to mine.

And yet if the game on the ice has changed, the coach hasn't. His visage is still that of a dictator, jaw thrust out, daring a referee to put a visiting team on the power play in the closing minutes of a game at the Joe; daring a player to make a mistake.

"It's more difficult to maybe get the team concept down," he says. "There are more places for players to play. There are less restrictions on their contractual obligations as time goes on.

"But that again is also a bit of an advantage, because down deep, most players want to win."

It's why so many have bided their time in Bowman's doghouse, where the rooms are usually reserved for the mighty because you pay them more. He expects them to earn their pay.

Brendan Shanahan, among the best of the Wings, is there because of a turnover Friday night that led to a 1-0 loss to Dallas.

"He's like a parent," Shanahan says in an Internet report. "You want his praise so badly. You need his praise. But he doesn't give it very freely. He really makes you earn it."

Guy Lafleur could have told him that. Lafleur, recently passed by the Kings' Luc Robitaille as the 14th-highest goal scorer, spent so much time in Bowman's kennel that he recognized Alpo as a delicacy. He also was the linchpin of five Stanley Cup winners in Montreal under the coach.

It will be difficult for him to win a ninth. On Monday, he learned defenseman Chris Chelios was going to be out three months because of knee surgery. The Geezer Wings are on borrowed time, and the minor league cupboard is bare.

Bowman, in the Hall of Fame since 1991, has nothing to prove. Though he's a U.S. citizen now, he'd like to coach Canada in the Olympics, but that isn't going to happen.

But neither is he likely to just fade away.

"I think the day he quits, they're going to have to drag him out because he enjoys coaching so much," Murphy says.

Hopefully, it will be no time soon.

HEY, HEY, AU REVOIR

The chorus begins "Nah-nah, nah-nah-nah-nah," and you have to figure when the recording came out back in days of yore, nobody figured it to become a staple in arenas all over North America.

Its derision is heaped on visitors everywhere, but on Saturday night in Montreal, it came showering down on the no-longer-beloved Habitants.

They were hammered by Toronto, 6-1, played listlessly and fell into last place in the NHL.

Yes, behind expansion Minnesota and Columbus.

Worse, Jonas Hoglund had a hat trick for the Maple Leafs. Yes, the same Jonas Hoglund that the Canadiens let go as a free agent two summers ago.

It was no surprise that, on Monday and only a few months after he was a finalist for the Adams Trophy as coach of the year, Alain Vigneault was let go. And little surprise that Rejean Houle, the general manager, joined him in unemployment.

Vigneault was replaced by Michel Therrien, up from the Canadiens' AHL affiliate in Quebec City. Andre Savard replaces Houle.

Who replaces Molson Brewery as owner of the Canadiens is still up in the air.

This is a franchise that defined hockey in Canada for generations, but it has publicly been for sale for more than two months and privately for a longer time, with no takers, save for Celine Dion's husband, who said he would borrow a few bucks from her royalties and buy 10% of the franchise.

COMING HOME

Bill Guerin didn't want to leave Edmonton, where he enjoyed playing on a line with Ryan Smyth and Doug Weight and where the team is enjoying a renaissance, in the standings if not the box office.

But the trade that sent him to Boston for unsignable--at least by the Bruins--Anson Carter was one that made sense all around. Guerin plays a tough game, the kind new Coach Mike Keenan likes.

And Carter earns much less money, about half the $3.2-million salary commanded by Guerin.

The Oilers pick up four seasons--Carter is 26, Guerin 30--and less of a challenge to their purse.

SLAP SHOT

Boston's acquisition of Andrei Nazarov and Patrick Traverse from the Ducks has Keenan's fingerprints all over it. The guy would go after an NFL defensive lineman if he could skate.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
62°