THE VERDICT: Scotty Bowman's Legendary Hockey Mind on Display
A 14-time Cup champion, Scotty Bowman tells all in new book, "Scotty: A Hockey Life Like No Other"
According to Scotty Bowman, the 2014-15 Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks belong among the eight best National Hockey League teams ever.
That's quite a badge for the reborn franchise, but because Bowman's fertile mind never rests, he conducts a hypothetical playoff to determine a winner. His breakdown can be found toward the end of "Scotty: A Hockey Life Like No Other," a definitive book that is overdue but worth the wait.
The new release was pegged by "The Hockey News" as "a work about a hockey genius written by a hockey genius," and there will be no attempt here to amend that. At the front door of a pantheon for history's most successful sports executives, coaches and managers, Bowman would serve as gatekeeper. Debates about who else and how many others belong are inevitable, but not regarding Scotty. He gets a bye.
Granted, Bowman's son Stan served as the Blackhawks Senior Vice President/General Manager in 2015, plus two Cups before that, and is still at his post wanting more. But he won't catch Dad, whose three rings as ongoing Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations in Chicago occupy but a corner of his jewelry box. He's got 14. He doesn't just like shiny objects. He gathers them.
But did you know that Bowman's vault also contains four championship watches, earned when he was being groomed for greatness within the Montreal Canadiens dynasty during the late 1950s? That was when the city's mayor, Jean Drapeau, would announce to his citizenry at season's end that "the parade will follow the usual route." This is another gem tucked within a book that entertains and informs.
Bowman always possessed a keen eye for talent, and he selected the perfect author in Ken Dryden, a Hall of Fame goalkeeper who, upon retiring, took a pay cut and became a better writer than us writers. That's humbling, but the mood passes when consuming Dryden's artful manner of connecting Bowman to the game's trajectory. An autobiography might have worked, but not as well as 377 pages where Bowman expounds and Dryden expands.
Bill Cowley and the Boston Bruins were early favorites of Scotty's. He picked up their radio broadcasts as a kid in Montreal. Bowman played as a youth, until he suffered a fractured skull from a vicious stick wielded by Jean-Guy Talbot. Scotty became a paint salesman, but cleverly arranged his schedule so as to sneak into Canadiens practices at the Forum. He did not go unnoticed.
Sam Pollock, talk about a genius, brought Bowman to join him with the Junior Canadiens in 1956. Scotty was 22 and on his way, albeit there were interludes. He scouted but craved coaching. He did that in the Central League but quit. He returned to coach the Junior Canadiens, and when the NHL grew to 12 franchises in 1967, he was hired by the St. Louis Blues.
Bowman met his future wife, Suella, there. He acquired Talbot, put him in the lineup, though they never discussed the incident. Bowman guided the Blues to three straight trips to the Final. In 1971, Bowman returned home to his dream job. Head Coach, Les Canadiens.
In 1973, the Canadiens beat the Blackhawks in the Final, Bowman's first Cup. Shortly thereafter, Scotty and Suella welcomed their third child. He would be named Stan, as in Stanley. Starting in 1976, Scotty and Dryden captured four consecutive Stanley Cups. During that outrageous reign, Montreal played 378 games, including playoffs, and lost only 56.
Bowman identifies his 1976-77 Canadiens among the ultra-elite eight. Also cited are the 1951-52 Detroit Red Wings, 1955-56 Canadiens, 1962-63 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1981-82 New York Islanders, 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers and his 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings. He heaps high praise on the aforementioned 2014-15 Blackhawks, likening Jonathan Toews to Jean Beliveau and Patrick Kane to Guy Lafleur. Bowman also lauds Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Corey Crawford.
Which team of Scotty's ultra-elite eight prevails? Turn to page 370.
As a hobby, Bowman has embraced golf, proof that he owns at least one vulnerability. He plays and officiates. During the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, journalists walked inside the ropes, all the better to witness a Tiger Woods happening. But besides his caddie, nobody was closer to Woods than Scotty, the walking scorer. That includes the rest of the field. Tiger romped by 15 shots. He made history. Scotty recorded it.
As for Dryden, he arrived in Montreal a year before Bowman, very late in 1971. He debuted against brother Dave, a former Blackhawk then with the Buffalo Sabres. That was a first. Then Ken took over the Canadiens net for the playoffs, beat the Blackhawks and won the Conn Smythe Trophy in a transcendental seven-game Final. Having logged only six regular-season starts, Dryden snagged the Calder Trophy as best rookie a year later.
Incongruous, but true. The mere mention of Ken Dryden sends chills throughout longtime Blackhawk fans, but wouldn't you love to write a book about a former boss?