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Bowness relying on experience, young mindset to stay fresh with Stars

At age 64, the veteran assistant has been behind the bench for more games than any coach in NHL history

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

It's good to be old.

Well, old and smart.

Actually, old, smart and spry.

Yeah, and pretty cool, too.

It's good to be old, smart, spry and cool.

In other words, it's good to be Rick Bowness.

The Stars assistant coach is 64, so not that old, but if you put that in hockey years, it's closer to 103. Bowness played nine seasons of pro hockey, including 173 games with Atlanta, Detroit, St. Louis and Winnipeg (and those are the original Flames and Jets, just so you know). He then started his coaching career at 29 with Winnipeg in 1984 and he's been in the NHL pretty much since.

Sure, there were four seasons in the AHL along the way, but as Bowness prepares for Thursday's game against the Blues, he has been behind the bench for 2,333 NHL games. That's more than any coach in the history of the NHL.

"That's pretty impressive," said Stars goalie Ben Bishop, who worked with Bowness in Tampa Bay. "When you think about what he has seen and how much he has learned, it's incredible."

Bowness is proud of the achievement. He will tell you that most of Scotty Bowman's 2,164 NHL games are as a head coach and only 463 of his are, but he also will tell you that being in the NHL this long is no small accomplishment.

 

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"We've very worked hard, we've made a lot of sacrifices, and this is where you get to when you do that," he said. "Honestly, my kids make a bigger deal out of it than I do."

But the veteran acknowledges that experience is a good thing. There is not much he hasn't seen in the league, and that creates a certain calm in his mind.

"It really does, because I wasn't always this way," Bowness said. "There were things I did earlier I would like to take back - overreacting, too emotional, too passionate. But as you age, and you get more comfortable with the day-to-day grind, you do calm down and gain some perspective."

That's been the perfect complement to rookie head coach Jim Montgomery and a fairly inexperienced coaching staff. Montgomery has also been around pro hockey for years as a player in the NHL and AHL, but he was head coach at the University of Denver for five seasons before getting this gig and had never coached in the NHL before this season.

Asked what Bowness has helped with this season, Montgomery said: "You name it. When to push, when to pull back on players, individually and as a team. He never turns the game off. He's an intense individual. He's a great teacher of the game, and his passion for the game resonates with his players."

Bishop said that might be the greatest strength of Bowness. Having played nine seasons and coached for 35, he understands pretty much every type of personality there is.

"Genuine is a great word to describe him and his coaching," Bishop said. "When he tells you something, he means it, because he's trying to help you."

The veteran goalie added that Bowness' style helps the team every day. Whether it's practice or meetings or in the middle of an intense playoff game, he has a way of keeping things just where they need to be.

"He's always talking to everyone, he always has a smile on his face. I really do think that makes a difference," Bishop said. "He knows what it takes to win, so even when he has a positive mindset, he doesn't mind telling you what has to be fixed. I like that.

"He has so much passion, yet he's also talking to you as a person and encouraging you do more or do better."

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Bowness said his experience has helped him stay both grounded and fresh. He has adapted his style to a younger player, but he also said he knows what works.

"So many things about our game are changing, how you coach, how you teach, how the players see things, but the fundamentals of the game never change, and so you have to be strong in your fundamentals," he said. "I know how the game has been played in every decade from the '70s on, so that gives you a pretty good base of fundamentals."

Bowness is in charge of the Stars' penalty kill, which ranks sixth at 82.3 percent, and also coaches the defensemen, three of whom are having seasons of 20-plus points. Asked how much Bowness does in regards to aligning defensive pairs and shelling out minutes, Montgomery said: "I would say it's 99 percent Bones. I have a lot of confidence in him."

Both head coach and assistant say that there is an open line of communication and that all of the coaches have a hand in coming up with a game plan. Assistant coach Stu Barnes said having a veteran like Bowness around makes it easier for everyone.

"He has so much insight into coaching, into what is going on in the league, into people in the league," Barnes said. "There are not many people you meet who don't ask how Bones is doing."

Bishop joked that Bowness knows every referee and linesman, and that he pretty much can strike up a conversation in any building in the league.

He then added seriously, "If there is one person I would want to see win the Stanley Cup, it's him."

Which is a pretty nice thing to hear as you get older. Of course, "old" is a relative term when you are in great shape, great at your job, and happy to be doing what you're doing.

"I'm fortunate I'm still doing it, because I still love it," he said. "I tell players who are just becoming pros that every day in this league is a blessing, it really is, never take it for granted. I still love it. I love coming to the rink every single day."

And that never gets old.

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 DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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