Work in Sports
Scotty Bowman continues to break ground
Posted: Wednesday October 20, 1999 10:23 PM
DETROIT (AP) -- He eats a bowl of oatmeal every morning. He works out every afternoon, after his players leave the rink. Scotty Bowman is acting like he might go on forever.
Winning has never been much of a problem. Still, some have been wondering how long Bowman will stay in the game. After all, he is 66 years old, had a series of health problems a year ago, and has little or nothing left to prove.
That kind of thinking misses the essence of Bowman. He is a man who loves the competition of hockey. The game has become his life.
"I'm with a veteran team, but we have a lot of young guys," Bowman says. "I think that keeps you young."
Bowman will have a job in some capacity with the Red Wings as long as he wants it. Right now, nothing appeals to him as much as coaching. The Red Wings are trying to reclaim the Cup title they lost last year after winning it in 1997 and 1998.
At this stage of his career, another Cup looms large for Bowman. That might explain why he wasn't especially excited about earning his 1,100th regular-season victory.
"I don't think the 1,100 means a lot outside of the fact I coached a long time," he says. "You're not going to stay on the job unless you win some games."
Because the Red Wings have kept the nucleus of their team together, Bowman figures to go on winning games. He also figures to go on demanding as much of himself as he does of his players. After all these years, he still studies the game, watches hours of video and tries new techniques.
"I'm not near the end," he says. "It's not a grind."
Almost in the same breath he adds: "I think more of today than I do of tomorrow."
A year ago, recovering from both heart and knee surgery, Bowman missed all of training camp and the first five games of the season. But, in typical Bowman fashion, he pushed himself to recover. This season, he has been more active than ever.
It started with him running a tough training camp, pushing his team of veterans as though they were youngsters. They had to know there was a price for losing four straight to the dreaded Colorado Avalanche in the playoffs.
So far, the Red Wings have responded to his intensity.
"Scotty sets the tone," forward Kris Draper says. "He still has the fire, there's no questioning that. He's as competitive as ever."
This might explain why, despite so much success, Bowman made sweeping changes during camp this season. The left-wing lock, based on puck possession, has yielded at times to more of a puck pursuit system.
"We have one line that traps a little, one line that does more forechecking," Bowman says. "We've got a lot of options now."
Sergei Fedorov, who has clashed with Bowman at times over his role and over playing time, has responded to Bowman's tinkering. He finds it interesting that Bowman isn't afraid of change.
"You trust his experience, and the fact that he's been so successful for so many years," Fedorov says.
Which is not to say that Bowman and the guys are about to go out for a round of beers anytime soon.
"I've been with him seven years and I still don't know him well," goaltender Chris Osgood says. "Nobody's ever going to know him, at least not completely."
The stories of how Bowman has won eight Cup titles by playing mind games with his players are legendary around the NHL. He once had the high-scoring Fedorov playing defense. Opponents aren't safe from his tinkering, either.
Colorado coach Bob Hartley was furious after the visitors' dressing room at Joe Louis Arena got a fresh coat of paint on the eve of the second-round series against the Red Wings last spring. The paint fumes bothered his players and, although he couldn't prove it, Hartley was certain Bowman was behind the paint job.
That's the Scotty Bowman most hockey fans have come to know and love -- or hate. The control freak. But as much as he gets under their collective skin, his opponents give Bowman his due.
"There are two ways to play hockey, an easy game and a very hard game," Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock says. "Scotty makes his teams play the very hard game.
"To get a team to do that, you have to be determined. You have to be demanding. You have to be very combative and very stubborn. But when you make your team to do that, you play winning hockey."
Bowman's record is even more remarkable when the playoffs are factored in. With the victory over the Flyers, the Red Wings were off to a 4-1-1 start this season. That made Bowman's regular season record 1,100-515-286. His playoff record, after the sweep by Colorado last spring, is 200-115.
"Winning 1,100 games is just unbelievable," Draper says. "Most of the guys in this room will never even see 1,100 games."
It's a fairly safe bet that Bowman's regular season record will never be matched. The next highest is Al Arbour with 781. Only Arbour, Dick Irvin and Billy Reay have even coached 1,100 games. Arbour is second in playoff wins with 123.
The numbers go on and on.
Besides tying him for the NHL record, Bowman's eight Cups are one behind Red Auerbach's nine NBA titles for the record in North American major sports.
He and Guy Chamberlain of the early NFL are the only coaches to win titles with three teams. His regular-season and playoff winning percentages are both over .600.
Bowman has more regular-season wins than every NHL team, other than the Original Six and the Flyers. He has more playoff wins than every expansion-era team, and more than both the Rangers and Blackhawks.
Can he win another one? Don't bet against him.
"You don't think about it as much now, but some day you'll tell your grandchildren that you played for the greatest coach in the history of hockey," Draper says. "It's really an honor to play for a legend like Scotty."