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"Scotty still has that intensity, but it's somewhat softened," says Penguin general manager Craig Patrick, who brought an element of generational symmetry to Bowman's coaching career when he offered him the Penguin job. Bowman's first NHL coaching position was offered to him by the late Lynn Patrick, Craig's father. "He's still driven," Patrick says. "I think he wants to be the winningest coach ever."
But isn't he already?
Says Patrick, "I don't think he wants anyone ever to touch him."
Bowman, the second-oldest of four children, grew up in Verdun, a working-class suburb of Montreal. His parents were Scottish immigrants, and if he learned competitiveness from his mother, Bowman learned the value of hard work from his father, who in 31 years of pounding sheet metal for the railway never took a sick day. The Bowmans lived on a street lined by 26 tenements, 13 on each side, six families per tenement, more than 150 families on the block. Bowman rattles off these numbers as if he had visited that street yesterday. He is comfortable with numbers, more comfortable with numbers than he is with people. One thousand wins. Six Cups. Twenty-six tenements. He has such a precise mind that some of his Penguin players refer to him as Rainman.
As a lad Bowman could strap on his blades in front of his apartment and skate down snow-covered 5th Avenue, through the back alleys, to the city rinks where he learned to play hockey. Verdun had dozens of rinks. By March 1951 Bowman was a pro prospect. He was 17 years old, a small, quick, talented forward for the respected Junior Canadiens. Then, almost as soon as his playing career had started, it was over. In the final minutes of a Junior A playoff game at the Montreal Forum, Bowman broke in alone on goal, chased by a defenseman named Jean-Guy Talbot, whose team, Trois-Rivières, was on the verge of being eliminated. Out of pure frustration Talbot swung his stick at Bowman once, twice, striking him in the shoulder and then the head. Bowman, like every player back then, wasn't wearing a helmet. He went down like a tree. "Scott put his hand up," Jean Bowman recalled not long ago, "and a piece of his skull came off of his head."
"It was like being scalped," Bowman says.
Talbot was suspended from hockey for a year, a suspension that was lifted eight months later. He went on to play 17 years in the NHL. Bowman, his skull fractured, hung up his blades at 18.
Did he ever forgive Talbot? Did he ever speak to the so-and-so again? "It was in the heat of the game, eh?" Bowman says matter-of-factly. "He just totally lost it. It was his fifth penalty of the game. We picked him up on waivers, and he played for me three years in St. Louis."
Classic Bowman. He doesn't hold grudges. Grudges can't help you win hockey games. But he learned something about hockey players from his own misfortune, something he would always remember, a motivational tool he would employ throughout his coaching career. There is no greater punishment a coach can inflict on a hockey player than to not let him play.
His playing career over, Bowman turned to coaching. First 12-and 13-year-olds, then 14 and 15. By the time he was 22, Bowman was coaching 20-year-olds at the Junior B level. It paid him $250 a year, so to make a living he took a job at a paint company five minutes from the Forum. Every day he took an early lunch, 11 a.m. to noon, so he could walk down and watch Dick Irvin's Canadiens practice.