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Five Questions With...

Five Questions with Scotty Bowman

On his 84th birthday, NHL's most successful coach discusses his lifelong passion for hockey

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" will run every Tuesday throughout the preseason and the 2017-18 regular season. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Scotty Bowman, the most successful coach in NHL history with nine Stanley Cup championships to his name, five more as a front-office executive. He is entering his 10th season as senior adviser, hockey operations, for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Scotty Bowman turned 84 on Monday, and he celebrated pretty much as you might expect: by sitting in the press box at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, taking notes during a preseason game between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes.

His day had begun with a trip to an optician for the repair of his glasses, done while he wrestled with an email service that didn't recognize his password "and wanted me to read all these complicated documents" to reset it.

"My wife (Suella) and I will celebrate my birthday by going to dinner (Tuesday) night with another couple who are good friends. They were busy tonight," Bowman said with a laugh of marking his 84th in yet another hockey arena.

He was delighted to mention that Monday also was the birthday of his namesake grandson, William Scott Bowman.

"He goes by Will. He never goes near Scott," Bowman said of the eldest of three children born to his son Stan, general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks, and his wife Suzanne.

And no, Bowman said, laughing again, he has no idea how many of his birthdays he's spent in arenas or on the road since the 1950s, in training camps or scouting or doing business for his team.

Bowman has had a front-row seat to the NHL since the mid-1950s, when he was cutting his coaching teeth in the Canadiens organization as an assistant to legendary GM Sam Pollock with the Ottawa Junior Canadiens. He would move up the ranks to become the first coach of the 1967-expansion St. Louis Blues, then chart a brilliant path with the Canadiens before moving on to the Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings, inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 1991.

Bowman coached 2,141 regular-season NHL games, but has seen many times that many throughout every level of hockey, either beating the bushes for the next great prospect or scouting in tiny community barns and huge NHL arenas.

A devoted fan, indeed an encyclopedia of the history of the game, saying that hockey is what fuels Bowman wouldn't begin to tell his story. So on his 84th birthday, it was the most natural thing in the world for him to be in another arena for another 60 minutes of the sport that is his lifeblood.

 

Here are Five Questions with … Scotty Bowman:

 

There's a photo of you at the Canadiens' 1971 training camp wearing a pair of leather gloves that you might wear to drive a car in the winter. Do you have an explanation for those?

"I'd wear them all the time, but when I went to Detroit, Igor Larionov said to me, 'Scotty, there's no protection in those. I can get you a pair of gloves, made for the game of bandy, that Russians coaches all wear.' So he got me a pair of red and blue bandy gloves, with some Russian script on them. I still have them. There's a photo of Dick Irvin with Jean Beliveau at Jean's first Canadiens camp in 1950, and Dick is wearing a shirt and tie under a U.S. Army jacket that he'd been given. Dick Jr. asked me I ever wore a wool peak cap and a tie to run a practice. No, I didn't."

 

This is your seventh decade of attending NHL training camps since your first with the Canadiens in the 1950s. What's been the biggest change you've seen during that time?

"The length of the camps, which were four to six weeks when I began coaching, and the first week of practice - let's use Montreal - that went from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. because they had so many guys. There was no time limit. They had four teams and they scrimmaged twice a day, each one for an hour and a half. Some guys would finish at 10:30 and come back and go again at 1, based on the schedule of the week. There were no preseason games. Chicago goalie Glenn Hall didn't want to practice for a month at camp, having guys like (Bobby) Hull and (Stan) Mikita shooting at him two or three hours a day. He'd always report two weeks late. He did the same thing with us in St. Louis."

 

You have countless stories from the camps you've run, and no doubt the wild, freewheeling Canadiens of the 1970s factor in a few of them. Of all that you've seen, what's your favorite training camp story?

"This one's connected to my birthday. It was the mid-1970s and my birthday fell during camp at the Montreal Forum. My father, Jack, was at the Forum that day, with my uncle, Fred Scott, who was over from Scotland, during his first visit to Canada. That was the first time he had ever seen hockey. A couple of players surprised me with a birthday cake after practice, and I have a photo of Yvan Cournoyer and Doug Risebrough with my dad and uncle on Forum ice. It was a great cake, with a hockey player and a net on it."

 

Who's the one person in hockey, player or executive, from any era, that you'd have liked to sit with over dinner just to shoot the breeze?

"One person who intrigued me was Art Ross (a former player, NHL executive and inventor who pioneered changes in the puck and goal net). When I was 6 years old in Montreal, my dad was able to get a Boston radio station and the Bruins were my team because they were winning Cups (in 1939 and 1941). My dad used to keep score for me. I'd go to bed after the first period and on the table the next morning would be the result. My mother found me a Bruins jersey someone and my favorite player was Bill Cowley, a second-line Boston center. To me, Art Ross was a pioneer of hockey - a great multi-sport athlete and an important inventor."

 

The 2015-16 and 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins became the first team since the Detroit Red Wings of 1996-97 and 1997-98, Detroit teams you coached, to win consecutive Stanley Cup championships. Not since the New York Islanders of 1981-82-83 has a team won three straight, following your 1977-78-79 Canadiens, the 1956-60 Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who won three in a row from 1947-49 and 1962-64. How good are the Penguins' chances of a three-peat?

"That just a few teams have done it in 100 years shows how hard it is. The Penguins were able to keep most of their players after their first Cup and now they've lost a couple more. They've filled in with some players and that meant a lot to them last year. (Forward) Jake Guentzel, the kid who scored 13 goals in the playoffs, wasn't part of the first Cup. Now they've lost (centers) Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen. They don't sound like big names, but they have to be replaced. They lost (goalie) Marc-Andre Fleury, but Matt Murray has been there for two Cups. (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin are still there, they're veteran players but they're not that old. They have the challenge of being one of the few teams to win three in a row and that challenge alone is a big motivation for a team."

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