We’re a little late getting to this one, but it’s never inappropriate to discuss Scotty Bowman, the game’s greatest coach — and along with his mentor, Toe Blake, the Habs greatest coach.
Tuesday marked the 44th anniversary of the start of Scotty’s NHL coaching career as he took over for Lynn Patrick behind the Blues’ bench for a 3-1 loss to the Canadiens, the team where he apprenticed for an NHL job and the team he would eventually guide to five Stanley Cups in eight years. He won another in Pittsburgh plus three more in Detroit and holds every NHL coaching record there is.
Before his run of championships, the Montreal native took the Blues to the Cup final in their first three seasons, making them the top team of the NHL’s 1967 six-team expansion. They didn’t win a game in those three finals, twice losing to the Habs, but that hasn’t diminished Bowman’s popularity in the town where he got his start and met his wife, Suella.
Along with former Blues forward Garry Unger, Bowman was inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame last week. Here’s a great story by Dan O’Neill from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Scotty’s early days with the Blues .
O’Neill also had this interesting tidbit from Scotty in another story this week on the Blues’ home ice advantage when he coached them.
“The ice surface wasn’t 200 feet by 85 feet, or the standard size,” Bowman recalled. “It was about 82 or 83 feet wide. Nobody knew that, I didn’t even know it. But when they put in an extra row of seats or whatever during the renovation, they took two or three feet away.
“But we started to be very tough to beat at home because of the enthusiasm of the crowd and we had tremendous goaltending.”
In an interview with Scotty over KMOX radio (audio) in St. Louis, host Kevin Wheeler wanted to know if Bowman had any advice for young coaches on handling players. Bowman said, “There’s a personal side of coaching and player relationships, and there’s a professional side. You have some tough decisions to make, but when you make a tough decision, it’s professional, it’s not personal…It’s basically to separate the personal side and the professional side and that’s the most difficult task anyone would have because you can get very friendly with your players or you can also keep them at arm’s length, but professionally, you have to really be on the same page.”
While he acknowledged that different coaches have different styles, Scotty was, legendarily, one who kept his players at arm’s length, maybe even more than one arm’s length. Those who know him away from the rink can attest he’s as good a friend and family man as there is, but on the job he wasn’t friends with his players.
It worked pretty well for him, especially in Montreal.