Friday, April 22, 2011

Scotty Bowman : The First Stanley Cup

Stress. A definition from Funk & Wagnals Dictionary is as follows - Emotional or intellectual strain or tension. To witness stress over the airways, all one has to do is watch a Stanley Cup playoff game on television. When something goes wrong on the ice, the TV camera immediately takes focus on the coach for the offending team. The bench boss usually has a large array of facial expressions and unique body movements in his repertoire. These can range from rolling his eyes to removing a wad of gum from his mouth and tossing it north, south, east and west.

Even the coach who comes across as being calm, cool and collected, can't escape the emotional roller coaster. As former NHL coach Ken Hitchcock put it, "Coaches are like ducks. Calm on the top, but paddling underneath. Believe me, there's a lot of leg movement."

The one exception to the rule could be Scotty Bowman. When the red light came on the camera and Bowman's face was framed on our television sets, his expression never seemed to change. Bowman's head was always straining upward, as though it were rising above the situation at hand. Nothing appeared to faze him. Not a bad goal, missed checking assignment or an officials call against his club. Coach Bowman would simply deal with the difficulty by devising a new strategy or addressing a personnel problem. He wouldn't let his players or fans have a glimpse of the frustration or disgust which may have been festering within him. Why give his opponent a psychological advantage.

In the history of Stanley Cup competition, Scotty Bowman is in a class of his own. He holds the record of winning 9 Stanley Cups as a head coach. In a NHL coaching career which spans from 1967 to 2002, Bowman captured 5 Cups in Montreal, 1 in Pittsburgh and 3 in Detroit. His final Cup as Red Wing boss, provided him with a one Cup margin over Toe Blake.

Scotty Bowman amassed an amazing playoff record. He coached in 353 games, winning 223 and losing 130. Taking into account the longevity of coaches in today's hockey environment, Bowman's 9 Cup wins could remain a record for some time to come. His first Stanley Cup? Well, that came with Montreal in 1972-73.

The hockey year in '72-73 started with a bang and concluded in the same fashion. In September 1972, Team Canada and the Soviet Union engaged in an 8 games series which hasn't been matched since in International Hockey. At seasons end, the Montreal Canadiens posted an amazing 52-10-16 record in 78 games.

In the Stanley Cup quarter-finals, Montreal won a best-of-seven series over Buffalo 4-2. In the semi-final action, they eliminated Philadelphia in 5 games (4-1). Their opposition in the Stanley Cup final were the Chicago Black Hawks. On May 10, 1973, Scotty Bowman and the Montreal Canadiens would claim hockey's most prized trophy while visiting Chicago Stadium. Of the 6 games played, this was the best of the crop.

The Hawks took a first period lead on 2 goals scored by centre Pit Martin. Montreal closed the gap when Henri Richard scored with 12 seconds remaining in the period. The Habs outscored Chicago 3-2 in the middle frame and they entered period three tied at 4-4. Goals by Yvan Cournoyer and Marc Tardiff clinched Montreal's Cup victory.

For Scotty Bowman, it was the first of 9 Stanley Cups. Comments made by Bowman following the game, demonstrate how important this initial Cup was to him. "I'm so happy I could cry. It is my biggest moment in sport. This team had a tremendous year, but I have to make special mention of Richard (Henri)", said Bowman.

In 2010, Bowman's son, Stanley, named after Lord Stanley's mug, would win the big prize as general manager of the Hawks. His senior advisor/hockey operations was Scotty Bowman.

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