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NHL Centennial

Scotty Bowman shares milestone memories

Hall of Fame coach recalls 1,000th NHL victory 20 years ago, details from historic career

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- So what is more impressive: Scotty Bowman's NHL-leading-by-a-mile 1,244 coaching victories or his almost frightening recall of the finest details of single shifts from games played decades ago, some a half-century in the past?

"I remember the good ones," Bowman said with a laugh from his winter home in Sarasota, Florida.

He has plenty of good filed away.

A template for countless coaches who have followed him at every level of hockey, Bowman got his 1,000th regular-season NHL victory 20 years ago on Feb. 8, 1997. And as he does with an encyclopedia of games, the 83-year-old remembers details of the milestone with stunning accuracy, any fact offered to him fleshed out with context and detail that begins with "And another thing …"

Better yet, most every anecdote he relates detours him to something unrelated that is dripping with history.

"That [1,000th win] came with Detroit in 1996-97, the year we finally won the Stanley Cup (in his fourth season with the Red Wings), Saturday in Pittsburgh, Mario Lemieux on a Penguins line with Ronnie Francis and Jaromir Jagr," Bowman said, and if he wasn't on a cellphone in his car you'd swear he was reading from notes.

"We matched up with Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan. I didn't play them all the time but I remember vividly that I did that day, our best three forwards against their best three. Yzerman and Lemieux moved to the wings. It was a hang of a game, [6-5], Shanahan scoring in overtime. Imagine, six Hall of Famers facing each other -- if you include Jagr, who'll be there."

It was fitting that Bowman won his 1,000th game against Pittsburgh, the organization that had brought him back into coaching in 1991-92, four years after he'd been fired by the Buffalo Sabres 12 games into the 1986-87 season.

The milestone came on his third attempt; the Red Wings had tied the St. Louis Blues and lost to the Vancouver Canucks in Detroit before going to Pittsburgh.

"It's a different feeling, in a building where you'd coached the home team many times before," he said. "It always felt that way in Montreal. So it meant a bit to win [No. 1,000] in Pittsburgh. They were a good team and we were, too, as we'd prove a few months later."

Video: Memories: Scotty Bowman's 1,000th win as head coach

Bowman led the Red Wings to their first of two consecutive championships, his eighth and ninth as a coach after having won five with the Montreal Canadiens from 1973-79 and another with Pittsburgh in 1991-92. He has earned five more as an executive, his three most recent with the Chicago Blackhawks as senior adviser of hockey operations, working alongside his son, Stan, the general manager.

Put Scotty Bowman's success in perspective this way: 1,244 victories is equivalent to winning all 82 games for 15 seasons, then 14 more in a 16th. He is the only NHL coach with 1,000 regular-season wins; counting 223 playoff victories, he's won 1,467 games.

Nearest to him on the regular-season list is Chicago's Joel Quenneville, trailing by more than 400 wins. It would take Quenneville, still a decade shy of Bowman's 30 years of coaching, roughly eight more seasons of 50 victories each to catch a man who didn't have the benefit of the shootout to add to his wins total. One more goal in even one-quarter of Bowman's 314 ties and he'd be at nearly 1,325 regular-season wins.

"Will someone catch me?" he said. "Oh, sure. With today's game and shootouts, sure."

The late Al Arbour stands third with 782 wins, followed by Ken Hitchcock, fired last week by the Blues, with 781, and Lindy Ruff of the Dallas Stars, 50-plus back of Hitchcock. Barry Trotz of the Washington Capitals passed the late Dick Irvin last weekend for sixth place with 693.

Bowman rewinds fondly and with uncanny accuracy to his first days as an NHL coach. With the expansion St. Louis Blues in 1967-68, he had been promoted from assistant coach earlier than expected by coach/GM Lynn Patrick, whom he was scheduled to succeed the following season, with the Blues at 4-10-2.

Bowman had left the Canadiens organization, where he was coaching the Montreal juniors, to join St. Louis, working with Patrick as assistant general manager to keep an eye on its farm team in Kansas City. He didn't think he was ready to coach the Blues until he called his friend Sam Pollock, finally heeding the veteran Montreal GM's advice.

You joke to Bowman that he couldn't buy an early win -- he lost his first three games and six of his first seven -- and he's quick to reply, "But more of those were on the road, and they were close."

Indeed, three of those seven Blues losses were by one goal, and three were as the visiting team.

Bowman and his players, captained by Arbour, would hit their stride in the West Division, which consisted of six expansion teams; Patrick gave his new coach free rein on personnel and Bowman immediately called up Kansas City's Frank St. Marseille, Gary Sabourin and Terry Crisp, "who were better than our third line in St. Louis."

The West was ferociously competitive. The Penguins, six points behind the first-place Philadelphia Flyers at the end of the 74-game schedule, finished fifth and missed the playoffs. The Blues defeated the Minnesota North Stars twice on the final weekend to qualify and they barely did so, finishing third, one point up on Minnesota, three on Pittsburgh.

Bowman vividly recalls the first-round seven-game series against the Flyers and a heartbreaking 2-1 Game 6 loss when a puck deflected off the glove of a Blues defenseman and eluded goalie Glenn Hall in double overtime.

The coach played a hunch for Game 7 on the road by calling up defenseman Doug Harvey, his 43-year-old player-coach in Kansas City.

"I think Doug played 45 minutes in Game 7," Bowman said of the 3-1 win.

With Hall sizzling in goal, wily Dickie Moore a sparkplug up front after a two-year retirement and Harvey and Arbour anchoring the defense, the Blues won their semifinal series in seven games against the North Stars, with three games going to overtime and one to double overtime. Oddly, St. Louis hosted five of the games when an ice show booked into the Met Center in Bloomington bounced the North Stars from a date in their building.

The Blues would be no match for the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final. They fell in four straight, two games needing overtime. Still, Hall would win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason's most valuable player.

Bowman went 110-83-45 with the Blues over four seasons before he was hired to coach the Canadiens, who'd had him in their long-term plans before he signed with St. Louis. But with the Blues, he had begun to craft a personality that would keep his players off balance for three decades, pulling the best out of them sometimes against reason and all odds.

Bowman once left a hockey stick with a bell captain in a Detroit hotel, the post-midnight signatures collected on it showing him who had broken curfew. And he wasn't above scheduling two-a-day practices when his Blues were sluggish, timing the workouts to early morning and late afternoon to maximize commuting inconvenience, a sharp reminder of who was in charge.

Bowman went on to enjoy fabulous success in Montreal, then moved to coaching/GM duties in Buffalo from 1979-80 into 1986-87 before taking a break and then coaching Pittsburgh from 1991-93 and Detroit from 1993-94 to 2001-02, leaving coaching for good with his ninth Stanley Cup win.

He has collected some memorabilia along the way but has nothing from his first NHL win, a 3-2 home victory against the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 29, 1967, nor from his 1,000th.

"They didn't give you a puck or even a scoresheet then," he said.

Recalling that Shanahan scored the winner in his 1,000th victory isn't even a challenge. But ask Bowman if he remembers who scored the clinching goal in his first of 1,244 career wins and he also replies without hesitation.

"Ron Schock," he said, laughing.

"And another thing … Dickie Moore scored for us late in the third period of Game 7 against Minnesota in the 1968 West Final, after Walt McKechnie had scored for them, and Schock scored again in double overtime, on Cesare Maniago, to win it."

It goes without saying that you don't have to look it up.

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