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Canada WJC coach Lowry latest Neilson protege

by Tim Wharnsby

More than a dozen years have passed since Hockey Hall of Fame member Roger Neilson died after a lengthy fight against cancer. But his coaching tentacles remain alive and well at all levels, including Dave Lowry, who will coach Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff learned his trade as an assistant under Neilson with the Florida Panthers two decades ago. Three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks had Neilson on his staff with the St. Louis Blues in the late 1990s.

Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau played for Neilson with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1970s. Neilson protégé Craig Ramsay is a consultant for the Montreal Canadiens coaching staff, as is Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, who was a player for Neilson while he was an assistant coach in Chicago and St. Louis.

Luke Richardson (Binghamton Senators) and Dallas Eakins (San Diego Gulls) have gone from playing for Neilson to coaches in the American Hockey League.

And then there is Lowry, the coach of Victoria in the Western Hockey League who will lead Canada when the 2016 WJC starts Saturday in Helsinki against the United States (1 p.m. ET; NHLN). The defending gold medalists also will play Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland in preliminary-round play.

Lowry, 50, played two seasons for Neilson with the Florida Panthers in the 1990s. Lowry said no coach had as much influence on him as Neilson.

"I'd have to say Roger Neilson, his preparation and the way he treated and respected his players," Lowry said.

Lowry was a popular teammate during his 1,195 NHL regular-season and Stanley Cup Playoff games. He worked hard, was prepared, was versatile. He played on the first line at times and on the fourth line, scratching out a 19-season career despite being picked by the Vancouver Canucks in the sixth-round (No. 110) of the 1983 NHL Draft.

"Dave was a good teammate, a good communicator and he had a passion for the game," said Brian Bradley, Lowry's linemate with London of the Ontario Hockey League and with the Canucks. "He knows what it takes to be a successful player. He had to work hard for everything he achieved. Nothing came easy for him."

In December 1984, Lowry and Bradley traveled to Belleville, Ontario, for Canada's junior selection camp for the 1985 WJC. Bradley made the team and won gold, while Lowry was among the final cuts.

Lowry returned to London and put the finishing touches on a 60-goal season in 1984-85. He turned pro the following season, and helped Fredericton reach the Calder Cup Final in 1988, and played in the Stanley Cup Final with the Panthers in 1996 and Calgary Flames in 2004.

Becoming a coach was a no-brainer after his playing days concluded in 2004.

"From just playing the game and it being a big part of your life, hockey is one thing that was consistent growing up," he said. "I always had a passion for the game and I always knew I wanted to stay in it in some capacity and I don't have any interest in being on the management side."

After a stint as coach of Calgary in the WHL, Lowry was hired as an assistant coach on Brent Sutter's staff with the Flames. Lowry was the first person Sutter interviewed for the vacant spot.

"Dave knows the game very well," Sutter said. "He's been in the game a long time and experienced a lot of big games as a player. He made the transition from player to coach smoothly.

"He gets a lot from his players. His teams are disciplined, structured and he gets maximum effort."

Lowry has leaned on Sutter in preparation for his role with the Canada at the WJC. Even though Lowry was an assistant coach with Canada at the 2015 WJC, he sought advice from Sutter, who coached Canada at three World Junior tournaments, winning back-to-back gold medals in 2005 and 2006.

"Brent and I have talked. He's been here and he knows what to expect," said Lowry. "You lean on people you respect."

Said Sutter, "My main message was to be himself and find a way to get the most out of his players. It's a different animal when this tournament is over in Europe. He has to keep his players focused and find a way for them to get accustomed to the international ice surface."

Sutter said he believes Lowry will do fine in the high-pressure position of coach of Canada at the World Juniors.

"It was good that he was an assistant last year when they won gold in Canada," Sutter said. "Of course he's my friend but I respect him as a coach. This will be a fantastic experience for him and he'll do well."

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