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Alumni Reunion: Rick Bowness

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Rick Bowness played for four NHL clubs in six seasons, including the Red Wings in 1977-78. That season he had eight goals and 19 points in a career-best 61 games.

The true sense of a hockey lifer, former Red Wings forward Rick Bowness has been in the game since a young boy growing up in  Halifax, NS.

Drafted by the Atlanta Flames in the second-round in 1975, Bowness spent much of that first season with the Flames’ minor-league club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he finished sixth in team scoring with 25 goals and 63 points.

Prior to the start of the 1977-78 season, Bowness was traded to the Wings for cash. He was an effective checker and did contribute on Detroit’s power play, but for the most part, then-coach Bobby Kromm elected to go with Danny Grant, Bill Lochead, Vaclav Nedomansky and Dennis Polonich on right wing.

Fourteen months after arriving in Detroit, Bowness found himself on the move again, this time heading to St. Louis in another cash transition deal. Over the following two seasons, he played in 34 games for the Blues, before wrapping up his playing career with the Winnipeg Jets in 1980-81.

Since then, Bowness has enjoyed a 30-year coaching career that has taken him to nine different AHL and NHL cities, including Vancouver, where he has spent the last six seasons as an assistant and associate coach. He has also been a head coach in both leagues and has compiled a 123-289-51 NHL record with Winnipeg, Boston, Ottawa, New York Islanders and Phoenix.

During as stop into Detroit with the Canucks last season, Bowness sat down for an exclusive interview with to discuss his experience in living and playing in Detroit in the late-70s.

QUESTION: Do you keep in touch with any of your former Red Wings teammates? If so, who?

RICK BOWNESS: “Nick Libbet, Jimmy Rutherford, Paul Woods. I see Dennis Hextall every now and then. The guys that are around you see the most, but Nick is probably the guy I keep closest in touch with.”

Q. Which of the current Red Wings is your favorite? And why?

Bowness: “I love watching (Pavel) Datsyuk. To me, he’s the best player in the game. He’s incredibly creative with the puck, with that long stick. To me, he is the most educated player to watch in hockey. I think he’s outstanding.”

Q. What was your favorite memory as a Red Wing?

Bowness: “We knocked off Atlanta in the first round (1977-78). We hadn’t made the playoffs in a long time and we came in and not only made the playoffs but won our first round. The atmosphere in that Olympia was just phenomenal. Knocking off the Flames and winning that round was pretty special.”

Q. Which of the guys you played with was the toughest?

Bowness: “Dennis Hextall. Night in and night out, in terms of not a big man, but playing hard, feisty, competitive, it was Hexy.”

Q. Who was the funniest?

Bowness: “Woodsy (Paul Woods) would be right in there. Perry Miller was funny but I had a lot of fun with Woodsy.”

Q. Who had the biggest heart?

Bowness: “A lot of guys had big hearts. Dennis Polonich played with a big heart. Nick Libbet had a huge heart night in and night out. I think what made that team special was that so many guys played with so much heart. We weren’t the most skilled team in the league but everyone showed up every night and played their hearts out. I wouldn’t even pinpoint one guy; what made that team special was the way we played.”

Q. How has the NHL changed since you played?

Bowness: “Everything about our league has changed. The way the game is played, the condition and size of the athletes, the travel, the arena. And one thing you have to make sure you do is you change with it. You can’t live in the 70s or 80s or 90s; you change with the game. The game is faster because the players are bigger, stronger, much better conditioned. And the equipment they use today is lighter and stronger.”

Q. Toughest team (other than the Red Wings) when you played?

Bowness: “Philly and Boston. When we went into those arenas it was always an interesting night.”

Q. Who did you sit next to in the dressing room?

Bowness: “Danny Maloney.”

Q. What do you love most about the game?

Bowness: “I love everything about the game. I’ve been around the rink 37 years. I love coming to the rink for games, practices, travel. This has been my whole life, so there isn’t a negative to me about this game.”

Q. Who had the greatest influence on your career?

Bowness: “I always point back to my father. He played in the Montreal Canadiens organization and he had a great passion for the game and fortunately when I was a kid I’d go to the rink with him and that’s where you learn your passion. You meet a lot of wonderful people as you go through the years in the league, and everyone helps you in any way they can but I always go back to that time with my dad.”

Q. What advice would you give to kids playing today?

Bowness: “I know how competitive minor hockey is now, but you’ve got to enjoy it, you’ve got to play for the right reasons. You can’t be playing because your parents want you to or because you’re good. You’ve got to play because you love the game, and if you love the game you’re going to have fun. Play for the right reasons.”

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