(CP) - Rick Bowness had to live through the lean years. Jacques Martin put up with his teams being called underachievers.
Both former Senators head coaches say they're happy for their old team reaching a first-ever Stanley Cup final.
"I'm ecstatic for the team and the city and I hope they do well," Bowness, the team's first coach, said Wednesday.
He's had more than 11 years to digest the Senators firing him. For Martin it's only been a little over three years since he was let go, but he says he's still happy to see his old team break through.
"For sure, I was fortunate to be there almost nine years," Martin, now Florida's coach/GM, said from Vancouver where he's attending the Memorial Cup. "I think it's an excellent organization. They drafted some excellent players and did a really good job of developing them."
The big thing, Martin said, is that he's happy for Ottawa fans.
"It's nice for the city," said Martin. "The city went through a lot of frustrations. Because when you do have a good team, you're expected to win. And there's only one team that wins the Cup. It's nice for the fans to be rewarded with a trip to the Stanley Cup final."
There was no talk of a Stanley Cup when Bowness was behind the bench. He coached for the first three-plus seasons and wasn't given much of a chance with a roster of hockey vagabonds and the organization focused on patiently building through the draft.
The expansion year, 1992-93, featured the likes of Mark Freer, Neil Brady, Darren Rumble, Dave Archibald, Dave Allison, Chris Luongo, Darcy Loewen, Ken Hammond, etc.
Defenceman Norm MacIver led the team in scoring.
It all amounted to a 10-70-4 record - one loss short of the NHL record held by San Jose.
"I think when you look back now, the only thing we know is that everybody did their best," Bowness said from his off-season home in Grande Lake, N.S. "And we have to live with that."
It all started so well, a 5-3 win over Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens in their first-ever game.
"That was special," said Bowness. "It just shows when you put all the emotion you have and every ounce of intensity from your body in every shift like the players did that night, that you could overachieve.
"Of course, there was no way you could sustain that over 80 games."
The headline in the Ottawa Citizen the next day read: "Maybe Rome Was Built In A Day."
"Two nights later in Quebec, I don't know if we've touched the puck yet," laughed Bowness, recalling a 9-2 drubbing at the hands of the Nordiques. Eight more losses in a row would follow.
Bowness is now an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks on Alain Vigneault's staff. Those roles were reversed in Ottawa when a young Vigneault was given his first NHL coaching job by Bowness. E.J. McGwire, now at the NHL head office, was the other assistant coach.
"We took a lot of pride in our work ethic, we took a lot of pride in our preparation," said Bowness. "At the time we thought we were doing everything right, but the results weren't there. Now 15 years later, I'm a better coach than I was then, and so is Alain and so is E.J."
The wackiness of that expansion year probably reached its apex when a University of Ottawa student jumped on the ice one day at practice, thinking he'd try out and help out the poor, pitiful club.
"One of the craziest days is the day that kid showed up," Bowness said between laughs. "I think his friends convinced him, 'Look, they're so bad, they're having open tryouts.' So the kid shows up to practice, sits in the stands, gets dressed, comes on the ice and there's still tags hanging off of his equipment from Canadian Tire.
"Mike Peluso tells the kid, 'Yeah, yeah, you can skate with us no problem.' He was egging him on."
McGwire chased the student off the ice.
Bowness was fired in November 1995 and replaced by Dave Allison. He was fired just over a year later in January '96 and replaced by Martin. He lasted nearly a decade, his teams making the playoffs eight straight years from 1996-97 to 2003-04, when the Senators developing a reputation for shrewd drafting.
"The scouts in the organization did a great job acquiring those players and the organization giving those players the right time to develop," said Martin. "When you look at the number of years they've had an opportunity to win the Cup, it's probably been 5-6 years now that they've been a top team.
"So it's nice for their fans and everybody to get some rewards."
Martin said he's been impressed with the way the Senators have played in these playoffs, a comment echoed by Bowness.
"They are right on top of their game, offensively and defensively, they are a very hard team to play against right now as Buffalo found out," said Bowness. "They've got the goaltending, they've got the rock solid defensive corps, they've got good balance up front, they've got grit, they've got speed, they've got skill.
"They're a very well balanced team and (head coach) Bryan (Murray) has done a real good job with them."