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'Be ready for anything': That's Rick Bowness' mindset with Stars on pause

Dallas' interim coach continues to work toward a potential return to hockey -- whenever that may be possible

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Rick Bowness has been in the middle of a lot of chaos this year.

The 65-year-old coaching veteran of more than 2,400 NHL games joined the Stars last season as an assistant coach in charge of the defense. Then, when the team removed Jim Montgomery as head coach in December, Bowness took over as interim head coach -- his first time running a bench since 2004.


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He fashioned a 20-13-5 record over 38 games and seemed to be getting into a routine when the NHL paused the 2019-20 campaign. Now, he is at his summer home in Nova Scotia trying to keep up with his coaches and prepare for a potential return to hockey whenever it is possible.

As you might imagine, he has been patient and philosophical.

"There's nothing else you can do," he told with a virtual shrug over the phone. "You just have to take it all in stride, stay prepared, and be ready for anything."

It's the smart thing to do, and Bowness has a history doing smart things. He was ready in 2018 when Tampa Bay made a change after he served five seasons as associate coach. He was ready when he was thrust into the job of interim head coach in Dallas. He is ready for whatever comes, despite the fact he has no guarantees past this year.

"I think you just have to deal with today, I've always been that way," Bowness said. "When all of this happened (in December), both sides agreed that this is how we would do it. So I don't think there are any surprises."

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Bowness said he has reflected on his return to head coach and said he has learned a thing or two.

"It was difficult early, just because I wasn't ready for it and I wasn't expecting it," Bowness said. "I had to make a lot of adjustments, but I did that. It's a little bit of everything. There were times it was difficult, and there were times it was very enjoyable."

Bowness has been very good at handling the extra responsibility and delegating to the coaching staff. One of his shining moments was when he was sick and couldn't be on the bench for a game at St. Louis. He ran all of the meetings in the morning and was in the video room for the game. The Stars overcame a two-goal deficit and came back and won the game 3-2 in overtime. It was a great example of Bowness' ability to run the team no matter what.

The current situation is similar. He's organizing coaches who are stuck in different locales, and he believes the team will be well-prepared whenever a training camp starts. He said the discussions about the state of the team have been productive, and he's looking forward to putting some of the plans onto the ice.

"It's hard to find time for good practice, and I think we need good practice," he said. "I think there will be a lot of focus on all of that when we get back."

Bowness said the team has been very good without the puck, but that it needs to find a way to possess the puck and take advantage of possession with extended time in the offensive zone.

"I find our attack very inconsistent," he said. "We need to spend more time in the offensive zone. When we are on our game, our attack is solid and consistent. When we're one and done, that's when it's frustrating. The inconsistency is what's frustrating."

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He said in games at Boston and St. Louis before the break, the team was strong with the puck. In games against Edmonton and Nashville (twice), it was not. That's part of the inconsistency. He said one thing the team can do to combat that is get everyone on the same page in terms of shift length and time on ice.

While there was a big push for shorter shifts to start the season, Bowness believes there needs to be consistency among players. One of the reasons younger players like Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz have had fewer minutes is because they tend to end their shifts early.

When the team returns, Bowness said coaches will push both young players to stay out longer and get in a groove with their linemates.

"Denis and Roope, they have both done an outstanding job for us. And when we get back, they're going to play a more prominent role," Bowness said. "We actually were trying to do that when we were playing, but I think it's even more of a priority now. We have to work to make their shifts longer. They just have a tendency to come off so quickly, and that makes it hard to get them minutes, and it also isn't good for their linemates."

"When one player stays too long or when one leaves too quickly, it usually takes to the next stoppage in play to get it sorted out. So that's going to be something we talk about a great deal," he added. "We're at our best when we are rolling four lines and when our lines are playing consistently together, so that's going to be a big push when we get back."

Bowness said he believes all of the players are on board with that philosophy. He said he likes the fact the minutes are spread throughout the lineup, and he believes the team is at its best when everyone is contributing. That's one of the reasons he's not worried that the top scorers are down from their previous offensive numbers.

He said that the challenge will be there for everyone to improve their output, but that the bottom line is everyone plays together and helps the team win.

"This is how we play," Bowness aid. "Can we improve our goals for? Yes. Can we improve them significantly? Probably not. But we're in a good place in terms of the standings and the playoffs, and we've gotten there with good defensive play, so we want to keep our strengths and build on our weaknesses."

That's something that extends to the coaching staff. Bowness said he's excited about the opportunity that sits in front of him, and said he knows other coaches are, as well. He said the fact that every roster should be healthy and every team will have a clean sheet when "training camp" starts is a great challenge.

"I think all of the coaches are doing everything they can," Bowness said. "That's the nature of the job. Coaches want to be prepared, so if they are given time, they usually work. But yeah, everyone is going to be healthy, everyone is going to be in the same boat, and we have no idea what the format is, so you look at everything.

"Every coach will be prepared, I can assure you of that."

It's sort of how you find calm at a time of chaos -- and that's something Bowness is very well-versed in.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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