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"When Scotty left Montreal [after winning the 1979 Cup], the feeling was that we'd show him," says Risebrough, who would play for the Canadiens for three years after that. "One third through the next season, when Boomer [ Bernie Geoffrion, Bowman's replacement] was gone, I guess Scotty had showed us. I always believed he was the best coach for us because he would push and push and command the attention of those great teams. Everyone says, yeah, but look at all the talent he had. Of course, he had talent himself."
Bowman was a prodigy. He was coaching 20-year-olds in junior B when he was 21. He was the coach of a major junior team at 25. He ultimately became the Canadiens' coach under general manager Sam Pollock, a brilliant sports administrator—Pollock is now CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays—from whom Bowman learned about people and the NHL. Pollock used to say he would take a lot of grief from a .300 hitter and none from a .200 hitter. "One of the things about Bowman," says Dallas general manager Bob Gainey, another of his players from Montreal, "is he doesn't get complaints, at least from the players who matter."
In Detroit, Bowman got rid of a .200 hitter in forward Shawn Burr, who griped about his lack of ice time, but he has always coexisted with his stars. He came close to trading Yzerman to the Ottawa Senators in 1995-96, and he befuddled the sensitive Fedorov, a former Hart Trophy winner, by trying him on defense in 1996-97, but he never lost them. When Bowman abandoned Detroit's fire-wagon style of hockey in favor of the left wing lock in '95, Yzerman's unwavering support made the new system work. The Wings, playing defense first, now have reached three Cup finals in four years.
"His adaptability is amazing, and he can try anything he pleases," says Shutt. There's nothing worse in coaching than worrying about what the press or the fans are going to say. Other coaches don't have the credibility to try stuff. Scotty has the latitude."
Seeing as how Bowman has won 47 more postseason games than anyone else in pro sports history, who can say no to him? For example, instead of playing his most rugged defenseman, Konstantinov, against Eric Lindros's line in the 1997 finals against the Philadelphia Flyers, Bowman not only mocked convention by using the slick pair of Nicklas Lidstrom and Larry Murphy, but he also altered the laws of the universe by instructing them to play the stick and puck instead of the body. "Basically, we were asking them to unlearn everything they knew, to abandon the most basic concept of defense," Lewis, Detroit's associate coach, says. "If a guy's on his butt, he can't score a goal, right? But we had looked at the tapes of Philly's previous series, against the [ New York] Rangers, and the big, strong Rangers defensemen couldn't move Lindros and [John] LeClair, who were either scoring or getting glorious opportunities. So we changed things, and reinforced the change with a videotape after Game 1 to prove it was working. Only because Scotty is who he is and had done what he'd done could we try it."
Human nature dictates that with Detroit primed for a run at a third straight Cup, Bowman, 64, will return to try to break Blake's record, which means, if theory holds, he will exercise his option to step down from behind the bench and become a Red Wings consultant. He will decide within a month. As the car carrying Bowman wended its way through the parade route during the victory celebration in downtown Detroit last Thursday and pockets of the 1.2 million throng were chanting, "One more year!" his younger brother, Jack, a scout for the Sabres, was undergoing quadruple-bypass surgery. (He passed away early Monday morning.) Scotty's sense of his own mortality probably won't affect his decision—"No, I have a pretty big physical every year in training camp," he said later that afternoon—but the opinion of the other passenger in the car, his wife, Suella, might. As "One more year!" thundered down, she covered her ears, and not only because the noise was deafening. If she has her way, Bowman will finally be free to ponder things other than figures on a stat sheet and the four buttons on the suits of his more dashing competitors.
Bowman, who defies fashion as much as he does human nature, grew agitated only once during Game 4 against Washington, when the valiant Konstantinov waved to the crowd. The Wings had a three-goal lead, but there were 17 minutes left and Bowman was worried that they would lose their concentration. "Players don't think like a coach," he says. "They don't think, What if they score now? How do we get it back? Do we have Vladi stand up again? What if Lidstrom gets injured?"
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