'Hawks GM Bowman adding to the legacy of his Cup-centric family
Stan Bowman has gone from accountant to GM of a Stanley Cup champion
He wisely talks to his famous father, Scotty Bowman, but is still his own man
His Blackhawks beset by salary cap woes, Stan's team is steadily improving
Stan Bowman was named after the Stanley Cup, but nobody thought he would actually get his name on it.
Sure, it was in his house so much while he was growing up that he could have been excused for thinking it was part of his mother's "good silver" from the dining room. It was all due to the work of his famous father, William Scott "Scotty" Bowman, who would go down as the greatest coach in NHL history and stand in stature with guys like Lombardi, Rockne and Auerbach. But Stanley Bowman was going to go about a quiet life at an accounting firm and prefer to be called Stan and that was that.
There was a job at Arthur Andersen straight out of college, and for five years Stan Bowman lived a perfectly respectable 9-to-5 existence.But something kept calling him back to thoughts of a life in hockey, and much to peoples' surprise that something was not his old man. The way Scotty saw it, if his son wanted to live a life apart from pro hockey's cutthroat, rigorous, out-of-a-suitcase existence, well, that was just fine. Goodness knows there was plenty of guilt already in Scotty Bowman's brain after a life spent so often apart from wife Suella and his young kids while working in Montreal and, later, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Detroit.
If the schedule ever permitted, wherever Scotty Bowman was, he always hopped the first redeye back to his family. But he knew he wasn't going to be able to go down as the greatest coach in the game and always be there for the family.
After his first few years out of Notre Dame, however, Stan started to realize that lifting a Stanley Cup himself some day -- or at least attempting to make it happen -- would make for a sexier life than poring over numbers on a corporate spread sheet.
"I realized I had a passion for sports all along, and wanted to get into hockey," he says. "I know some people might have the perception that I ended up getting into the game because of my dad, but I know the truth and know that he really didn't exert any influence at all in making it happen. I worked my way up here, and started here 10 or 11 years ago when my dad was still coaching in Detroit."
"Here" remains Chicago, where Stan Bowman is the general manager of the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. Yes, there are still some snickers in parts of the hockey world over the son of a hockey legend just so coincidentally having a powerful position on a team in which his father is also on the payroll -- as a senior adviser of hockey operations. Stan Bowman isn't trying to con anyone -- sure he's gotten and continues to get valuable help and advice from his father. Who wouldn't want to tap the mind of Scotty Bowman if they had the chance in this game? But Stan is through worrying about what others might think. Battling Hodgkins lymphoma -- which thanks to a stem cell transplant at the Mayo Clinic in 2008 has been knocked into remission -- helped teach him to do that. But he'd long had a wiser perspective on life, growing up with an older brother, David, who was born with hydrocephalus -- a neurological disorder that left him blind and mentally disabled.
"I think I'm someone who appreciates the important things in life and doesn't worry about the things that, really, mean nothing," Stan says.
He got his big break in the game from former Blackhawks GM and fellow numbers-lover Mike Smith, and went to work in the lower levels of management in 2001 for a team that was trying its best to keep Stanley Cups out of Father Bowman's hands again.
"I realized early on, even before I got into hockey, that you can't control what people are going to say about you," he said. "My dad had his share of run-ins with the media over the years, and he always told me 'they're going to write what they want to write and you've got to do what you think is best and you can't be swayed by that.' All I can do is my job and people can say what they want."
Thing is, nobody who actually gets to know Stan Bowman ever has a bad word to say about him. The joke has often gone that he's nothing like his father -- he's actually a nice guy who treats others well and with respect. Stories about his father's ruthlessness with players are legendary, perhaps none more so than when as coach of the St. Louis Blues in the late 1960s, Scotty would sometimes drop in at the favored bar of his players and plop a coin in the jukebox to play Fats Domino's "Kansas City" -- which just happened to be the city of the team's minor league affiliate.
"I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come..."
"Yeah, I know, I know the reputation my dad had," Stan says with a laugh. "But he's certainly mellowed over time. And I think athletes of today are different from what they were 30-40 years ago. You can't treat them the way you could then. They don't respond. It's a different world we live in, a different culture, in terms of players just having more power now. They have more of a voice. To try to manipulate them in the way that used to work just doesn't anymore, and I don't think that's really my style anyway."
Stan Bowman received his fair share of credit in helping turn around the Blackhawks after he replaced Dale Tallon as GM in July 2009, culminating last June with Chicago's first Stanley Cup since 1961. And he's received his fair share of blame for what some have called an underachieving season so far. At this writing, Chicago was only three points above ninth place in the Western Conference after a ghastly 5-0 loss at Dallas Thursday night.
Beset by salary-cap problems -- some of which could arguably be traced back to some of Tallon's decisions -- Bowman was forced to offload popular players such as Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and Antti Niemi shortly after winning the Cup. The Blackhawks have missed Byfuglien's hybrid game and overall swagger, and not everybody is sold on youngster Corey Crawford being an adequate replacement for Niemi in goal. After Thursday's loss in which he was pulled early, Crawford had allowed three or more goals in each of his last six starts.
Yet, even after Thursday, the Blackhawks were 9-2-2 in their previous 13 games.
"I think we started the year with a lot of unfamiliarity. It takes time to sort that out, as much as nobody wants to acknowledge that," Bowman says. "It takes time to know where guys fit in -- are you a third-line player, are you an offensive player, are you a penalty killer? What's your role? We had a lot of new faces and not a lot of time to figure it out. We had the busiest first six weeks of the season, schedule-wise. We had a ton of games and not much practice time. Before you knew it, we're in the middle of November and hadn't gotten our legs under us and were playing catch-up. But in the last month or so, we've finally come together as a group, where everybody knows where they sort out in our lineup."
At the top of the food chain is captain Jonathan Toews, who has been nothing short of terrific, with points in 13 of his last 15 games and goals in eight of his last 10. "He's been unbelievable," Bowman says. "We've just seen him evolve, even though he's still so young, to where he's the guy this year. We had a lot of other veterans last year where he didn't have to carry the leadership like he's had to this year. It's been impressive. We don't have to worry about him and some of our other top guys with motivation and drive, and that makes it so much easier for everyone else to learn from. One of the things my father was always so good at was finding a way to get his most talented players to be his best players. If you don't do that, you're never going to have success. It sounds very easy, but it actually can be the hardest thing to do because your best players can be finicky and they have egos and may want to be handled differently. But he was always so good at getting the best out of his top players."
Stan Bowman readily acknowledges he talks almost daily to his father, bouncing ideas off him, seeing what he thinks. But father calls on son for ideas a lot, too, and why not?
Who wouldn't want to consult with the GM of an Original Six team, whose name is on the Stanley Cup?