The Moncton, New Brunswick native now in his third season with the Vancouver Canucks, brings a wealth of knowledge of the game and an engaging sense of humour to the Vancouver club.
Get to know the Canucks' associate coach, go offside with Rick Bowness. Tell us about your first NHL game?
As a player it was 1975, December 23rd. I got called up, I was with the Atlanta Flames then, that’s how long ago that was. We were playing the Philadelphia Flyers, who were the Stanley Cup Champions and reigning bullies of the league. I got called up to play in that game.
I remember standing in front of their bench and they were all chirping because they knew I was a rookie. So I just dropped my gloves with Dave Shultz, who was the reigning heavy-weight of the league, and the linesman just stepped in.
In that era everyone fought and you had to show the other team that you were willing. If you did that they left you alone. So I figured this is my first shift, I might as well get it over with now. Who was your favourite player growing up?
Well we all remember Bobby Orr, but I also always admired Stan Mikita. Not only because he was a great player, but his upbringing, he came from Czechoslovakia and they moved him to St. Catherines. He didn’t speak English and if you read more of his bio you’d understand how hard it was for him in that era to make it to the National Hockey League.
Coming originally from Europe, even though he was raised in Canada, but not speaking our language and making it and being the dominant player that he was. I always had a lot of admiration for his character. If you could bring back any former player who would it be and why?
Bobby Orr. And let the current doctors fix his knees. That man was such a dominant player and had his knees absolutely butchered. He set all kinds of records and was a dominant player for a long time, but both the records and the dominance would have continued for so much longer if the doctors hadn’t butchered his knees.
They were going with the practices that they knew at that time, but if the doctors today had a chance to operate on his knees he would have set records that nobody, absolutely nobody would have touched. What is your favourite memory as a spectator?
Hockey. I don’t know, that’s a good question. I guess as a kid watching the initial Canada-Russia series. I remember I was in Montreal at the time playing Junior hockey and they brought the whole school in to watch that final game. That was the first impact that international hockey had on me. I remember that moment like it was yesterday.
And I’m still a young guy, I’m only pushing thirties now… If not hockey, then...
You know what, I’ve never had any other aspirations. I’ve never given another career another thought.
We did the testing they use to see what your strengths and weaknesses were and I think at that point, they said you should be a teacher. I'll say again I’ve never given another career another thought. Did your experience as a player influence your coaching style?
Yeah, quite a bit, because in my era of playing, coaches were all ex-players. And you’d go to a coach – and I wasn’t a good player, that’s important to note – and you’d go ‘okay what do I have to do to get better?’ And they’d always say work harder. Well I worked hard. I was in great shape and I worked hard and I kept saying I’m working as hard as I can.
So I think it’s very important that you’re very specific to help each player get better. This is what you do well, let’s work on these specific areas of the game to get you better. Whether it’s reads, whether it’s skills, whether it’s conditioning, whether it’s competing harder, whether it’s concentration, whether it’s intensity. All those areas, you’ve got to give players very specific things they can work with. Was there a coach who inspired how you coach or was it your experiences?
It’s been everything. Again, I’m an old guy so it’s different eras. But I remember playing for Tom Watt. Now Tom Watt had come out of the Canadian Colleges and he was the first coach that I played for that had a practice planned in terms of drills, in terms of duration, in terms of execution. Very, very organized daily, he always had different drills to do that were specific to the game that would make you a better player, a better team. Tommy Watt was the first guy that I played for that had a plan.
And you gain something from every coach you’ve played for, both good and bad. The one thing I do know about coaching is you’ve just got to yourself. You’ve just got to be yourself. I don’t like labels, I don’t like ‘he’s a player’s coach.’ I don’t believe in any of that stuff. To me it's just be yourself. What is the worst locker room smell?
Well that’s a long time ago, because today’s equipment doesn’t smell like the old equipment. It’s the old goalie pads and heavy stuff that they used to wear and the sweat and the smell would just stay in it forever. And the gloves that we used to wear the stink would be in your hands all summer. That’s how bad it was. If you could have any superpower what would it be?
Superpower? Heal the sick. What question do you always get asked?
How did you get into coaching? How did you?
I got into coaching because near the end of my playing career I was up and down in the minor leagues and National League, going back and forth. And John Ferguson Sr., at that point, mentioned to me that he thought I would be a good coach and was I interested. And I said absolutely. So one year I was playing in the American Hockey League and our coach had a brain tumour removed in July and wasn’t able to start the season, so Fergy asked me to be the player/coach for like two months.
So I was the Reg Dunlop, I was the player/coach for a couple of months and then it was determined that he, wasn’t going to be able to coach that year so I was player/coach for the entire year. And I knew nothing, I had no idea what I was doing, but you wing it. So I’d come off the ice with the equipment and stand there and go back out. Saw a lot of power play time. If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive who would it be?
Jack Nicklaus, because I’ve always admired pro golfers’ mental strengths. Of all the professional athletes, the golfers have the best mental skills, bar none. I’ve always been a big admirer of his. He set the bar for a lot of today’s golfers and I’ve always been intrigued by the incredible mental toughness that he always showed when you had to make the big shot or had to make the big put.