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New Hall of Famers touched by Bowman's presence

by Tim Wharnsby

TORONTO -- To get to the Hockey Hall of Fame ring ceremony on Friday, the seven inductees walked up the stairs into the Great Hall and were greeted by an iconic figure.

There, in his Hockey Hall of Fame blazer, was legendary 82-year-old Scotty Bowman. He was in town for the weekend festivities, and once he found out there was to be a ring ceremony Friday afternoon at the Hall, it was a no-brainer for him to attend.

After all, Bowman coached Sergei Fedorov and Nicklas Lidstrom to Stanley Cup championships with the Detroit Red Wings in 1997, 1998 and 2002. Before that, as coach and general manager of the Buffalo Sabres, he took a chance on Phil Housley when he selected the teenager out of South St. Paul (Minn.) High School with the sixth pick in the 1982 NHL Draft.

All three were touched by Bowman's presence. Fedorov particularly was moved, so much so that he revealed a seldom-told story about Bowman's soft side.

Neither Bowman nor Fedorov could pinpoint the exact season, but there was a spell when the two were together with the Red Wings in the 1990s that was a troublesome time for Fedorov and his then-girlfriend.

Fedorov asked for a brief leave of absence to attend to visit her in Arizona. Bowman granted Fedorov the time off. He didn't miss any games, and he rejoined the Red Wings in Los Angeles a few days later.

"I just wanted to get across that I was one of the first guys that Scotty let in," Fedorov said. "He was a nice human being. He understood our worries and problems. He doesn't behave [like his reputation]. I knew that.

"I had a problem and he let me take care of that. I don't think many of my teammates knew that story. But I wanted to get across that he's a nice man."

Bowman thought highly of Fedorov and his two-way game, so much so that when the team had a shortage on defense, Bowman didn't hesitate to move the center back to the blue line.

There also was the time in 1997-98 when the Red Wings and Fedorov engaged in a lengthy contract dispute. After owner Peter Karmanos (another Hall of Fame inductee as a builder this year) and the Carolina Hurricanes gave Fedorov a front-loaded $38 million, six-year offer sheet, Bowman strongly urged the Red Wings to match the offer to retain Fedorov, which they did.

Bowman, inducted into the Hall in 1991, was asked about his three former players who will be inducted on Monday.

"I didn't have to do much, except open the door," he said. "They were stars.

"Sergei was one of kind. He could play offense and defense.

"Lidstrom and Housley were great defensemen. One [Housley] didn't win a Cup, but it wasn't his fault. To do what he did was so hard. I don't think we'll see a kid out of high school do what he did, score 66 points as a rookie and the next year he scores 31 goals."

Bowman, who won a combined nine Stanley Cups as a coach with the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins and Red Wings and five more as an executive with the Penguins, Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, became emotional as he listened to the three players talk about the importance of his presence at the ceremony.

"When Scotty came to Detroit, we had a good team but we had not won a championship," Lidstrom said. "Having Scotty come in, we realized what it took to become a great team and changed the way we played.

"I had a great experience playing for Scotty."

Housley said, "It is privilege for me because he was the one who gave me a chance and took a chance on me.

"He was an innovator. We didn't win in Buffalo, but we had a lot of good players. This is a chance for me to say thank you to him."

The last word went to Fedorov. He and Lidstrom are the eighth and ninth members of the 2001-02 Red Wings team that gave Bowman his final title as a coach to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

"There were a lot of good moments with Scotty," he said. "But the one moment I will always cherish is the time Scotty let me off for a couple or three days from the team. It's a story that not many know, but I appreciate what he did."

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