Skip to main content
Greatest Moments

Bowman kept coaching retirement secret until after Stanley Cup win

Ninth championship among Greatest NHL Moments

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

The secret was so closely guarded that even Scotty Bowman's wife, Suella, had no idea.

With his Detroit Red Wings celebrating on Joe Louis Arena ice on June 13, 2002, having just defeated the Carolina Hurricanes in a five-game Stanley Cup Final, Bowman grabbed his general manager, Ken Holland, and hollered at him through the building's din that he'd just coached his final NHL game.

Bowman had decided four months earlier that after three decades of coaching in the NHL, this would be his last, win or lose. And oh, what a way to go out.

"I didn't tell anyone that this was it because I wanted to concentrate on what was ahead," Bowman said Wednesday. "I didn't want a farewell tour. I wanted to hopefully get to the end of it with a win, but I'd made up my mind in February. The last two or three years I'd been signing one-year contracts and I'd been thinking what I might do out of coaching because I'd done it so long. We had a good team. Hopefully we could go out and win but you never could tell. You need a lot of breaks too."

 

[RELATED: Vote now for NHL's Greatest Moments]

 

Word of Bowman's retirement spread as players took their traditional spin with the Stanley Cup, his exit from coaching an almost surreal announcement in the glow of victory.

"I didn't want it to be a distraction so I didn't tell any of them," Bowman said that night amid victory celebrations, according to Edmonton Journal hockey writer Jim Matheson. "I didn't feel that's what they'd want to hear anyway. Well, maybe some of them would. I just felt it was time now. My family has grown up supporting me in hockey. Now I've got a granddaughter and I've got a son whose wife is having a baby in late August. I think it's time to enjoy what other people enjoy."

The night Bowman won his record ninth Stanley Cup as a coach is among the remaining 16 entries in the Greatest Moments Presented by Coors Light and Pepsi Zero Sugar. As part of the NHL's Centennial Celebration, a blue-ribbon panel of broadcasters from NBC Sports Group, NHL Network, Sportsnet and TVA Sports selected 64 moments.

Video: Greatest NHL Moments: Bowman vs. Sittler

Bowman's moment is facing the 10-point night of the Toronto Maple Leafs' Darryl Sittler in 1976 in third-round voting, which ends Nov. 7. The Greatest NHL Moment will be announced during the Scotiabank NHL100 Classic between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa on Dec. 16.

Bowman's nine championships as coach -- he's won another five in management -- was one more than his mentor, Toe Blake, who won eight as coach of the Montreal Canadiens and remains in Bowman's mind the greatest coach ever.

And to Bowman, that is the only dark cloud over his having eclipsed the record of a man who became a friend and was a great influence in his coaching life.

"I always admired Toe so much," he told the newspaper. "What I might have admired most about him was that he won his last game as coach against us (Bowman's St. Louis Blues) in 1968. I thought, 'What a neat way to go out.'

"Most times coaches lose their last game and get fired. It's not easy to walk away when you win, but I was 69 and there were other things to do. I'd had knee surgery a few years before that and I wanted to do other things, so it was a pretty easy decision really. And never once after I retired did I think that I'd loved to have still been behind a bench to coach this game or that."

Bowman retired having coached 2,141 regular-season NHL games (1,244-573-10, 314 ties) with a .657 points percentage, and won 223 of his 353 playoff games (.632 winning percentage). He won the Stanley Cup five times with the Canadiens, in 1973 and 1976-79, in 1992 with the Pittsburgh Penguins and in 1997, 1998 and 2002 titles with the Red Wings.

He said the night he won No. 9 in 2002 that one of his regrets about coaching the Canadiens, 10 players on the four-straight dynasty headed for Hall of Fame induction, "was that I never got a chance to tell those guys how good they really were.

"Well, I'm going into my dressing room now to tell my guys how great they are, and not just the [nine future] Hall of Fame players."

Among others as he shuffled around the rink, Bowman hugged Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman and defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.

"This is the man who made this team and taught us how to win," Yzerman said that night of Bowman, who had been hired by the Red Wings in June 1993. "We've all learned so much from him. What a great way to start your retirement. I hope he enjoys it."

Said Lidstrom: "When [Bowman] told me on the ice [he was retiring], I said, 'Whoa, let's not get ahead of ourselves here.' The thing that makes him great is the way he's adapted from the '60s to this time, with all the different styles."

In the moments after defeat, Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice just shook his head as he considered Bowman's body of work.

"People said the four-minute mile would never be broken and it was, but nobody is going to come close to Scotty's record," said Maurice, today coach of the Winnipeg Jets. "The way the game is changing, the 30-team (now 31) League, I think I'd have to coach for 50 years to catch him and that ain't going to happen.

"We all get a little caught up with the names on the backs of the Detroit jerseys but they played so well as a team, playing a team game, and Scotty did that. That's a gift."

View More