DETROIT – The first time they met was more than 50 years ago as opposing coach and player in an Ontario junior league.
It was 1958.
Scotty Bowman was just a first-year coach in Peterborough while Pat Quinn was a 16-year-old rookie defenseman for the Hamilton Tiger Cubs.
“I actually remember him playing junior hockey when I was a coach in Peterborough,” Bowman recalled. “That’s how far back we go … to the late 50s now.”
Since then, the two men have long been cemented in hockey’s annals, and though their careers traveled different paths, their journeys often intersected. Both are two-time Jack Adams Award recipients, presented annually to the NHL’s coach of the year; they’re both on the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee; and each has received the Order of Canada, which recognizes a lifetime of achievement, dedication and service to the nation.
There’s no doubt that both have enjoyed esteemed careers. And while Bowman holds a distinct advantage in career wins and Stanley Cup championships – including three of his nine at the helm of the Red Wings – Quinn holds a slight edge (14-12-4) in their head-to-head coaching battle that began at Philadelphia’s Spectrum in 1979.
Now, the Alumni Showdown during the SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival on Dec. 31 will give the pair an opportunity to rekindle their rivalry when they fill-out the lineup cards and stand behind the benches to witness past greats from the Red Wings and Maple Leafs faceoff at Comerica Park.
Bowman will be joined on the Wings’ alumni bench by his longtime associate coach Barry Smith, who won five Stanley Cups with Bowman in Pittsburgh and Detroit. Meanwhile, Quinn, who is No. 4 all-time in NHL coaching wins, will be joined by Hall of Famer defenseman Red Kelly, who also coached the Leafs from 1973-77.
“This looks like a great event coming up,” Bowman told DetroitRedWings.com. “This is going to be quite the experience for everybody. When you haven’t been around the people for a longtime it’s exciting, for sure.”
Under Bowman, the Wings registered 410 victories, finished atop of the Central Division six times and won three Cups over nine seasons. Only Jack Adams and Sid Abel coached more games from behind the Wings’ bench than Bowman. But against Quinn’s teams – in Vancouver and Toronto from 1993-2002 – Bowman’s Wings were 7-7-2.
They opposed each other just 33 times, including three All-Star Games, in 1981, 2000 and ’02. But they’ve always managed to maintain a healthy respect for one another, too, Quinn said.
“He kept coming back and coming back with aces all of the time,” Quinn told the CBC during a 2002 interview. “But even with Scotty I didn’t think that he would stick it out this long, but it was his love and he was great at the work that he did, and I seem to be able to get those same lucky opportunities.”
Unlike Bowman, Quinn actually enjoyed an NHL playing career, spending nine seasons with the Leafs, Canucks and Atlanta Flames. And just two years after he retired as a player, Quinn took over as head coach of the Flyers. In 20 seasons, he produced 684 coaching wins in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto and Edmonton.
Now at 69-years-old, Quinn, who last coached the Oilers in 2009-10, told a Vancouver newspaper that he would like to return to an NHL team, perhaps in the same type of senior advisory position that Bowman is currently in with the Blackhawks.
But Bowman never thought he would still be in hockey 20 years after he left Montreal in the late 70s. Yet here it is 30-plus years later, and he certainly knows what Quinn must be feeling.
“When you’re in hockey all of your life there are certain things, like when you don’t go to training camp, it’s so strange when you’re a coach like he was,” Bowman said. “Evening time comes in the winter and you begin thinking about where you would be because you’ve been behind the bench for so many years.
“I’ll be 79 in the fall and I don’t do a lot, but to be able to say that you’re with a team means a lot to you and I think that’s the way Pat’s feeling too. When you’ve been with a team and in a job for a longtime – I really believe in staying connected.”
The Alumni Showdown will be Bowman’s first public appearance in Detroit since he left the Wings’ organization following the 2007-08 season when he accepted a position to work along side his son with the Chicago Blackhawks.
“Us leaving Detroit was a family decision because we didn’t know if Stan was going to be able to beat that Hodgkin’s; you never know with those things,” Bowman said. “I’ve been with the Blackhawks since ’08, but when we don’t do well or we don’t continue to play I still feel a lot of inter-workings for Detroit, because I think I was with Detroit more than any other organization, even longer than Montreal. It was a tough call to leave.”
Returning to Detroit will be a homecoming of sorts for Bowman, who coach 13 of the 15 former Red Wings who have already committed to play in the New Year’s Eve game. He just hopes that Mother Nature cooperates.
“It’s the unpredictable,” Bowman said. “You never know what the weather is going to be like. You have to make the right preparations and we’re all going to be there to have a good time.
“It’s going to be a lot more fun than a regular game or an All-Star Game because it’s going to be a great weekend in Detroit and in Michigan.”
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