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The Verdict: Bowman hasn't lost his hockey appetite

Tuesday, 10.26.2010 / 5:37 PM / The Verdict
By Bob Verdi  - Blackhawks Team Historian
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The Verdict: Bowman hasn\'t lost his hockey appetite

We’ve mentioned this before. There is a hard salary cap on brawn in the National Hockey League, but no limit on what progressive organizations can spend on brains. That’s good news for the Blackhawks and their fans, because Scotty Bowman is part of the franchise, a senior advisor who almost has done it all during a fabulous career.

We say “almost” because there is also even better news. Coming soon to chicagoblackhawks.com, Bowman shall have his own space—“Ask the Oracle”—in which this Hall of Famer will share a treasure trove of knowledge. Bowman has collected 12 Stanley Cup rings and is the only head coach in North American professional sports history to have won championships with three different teams. If there were a Mount Rushmore for coaches—any era, any discipline, any continent—Bowman and his estimable jaw would be right there.

THE VERDICT

Team historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. Verdi authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001.

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One would think that, at age 77, Scotty might retire from public life and just smack the little white golf ball around. After all, a number of former hockey executives can be found in and around Bowman’s winter residence of Sarasota, Fla. Most of them are at least slightly detached, which is to say they probably can’t tell you how the third line for the Phoenix Coyotes has been performing lately. And then there’s Scotty.

“Look at this….while we’re talking on the phone, I’m getting all these tweets,” Bowman was saying the other day. “Here’s one from Chicago. Tomas Kopecky, injured for Saturday night’s game there, will be back in the lineup Wednesday night against Los Angeles. I don’t send these tweets or twitters. Is that what they’re called? But I get them, and read them. Then I get stuff on my computer from the United Center every morning. Any story from any NHL city. It could take you two hours to digest it. I know, because I do it.

"At night, if I don’t go see the Tampa Bay Lightning play at home, I can watch any game on TV. Or I can do both. I can go to a game and watch one on tape later. Here we go! Here’s another one of those instant messages from Toronto! Another tweet. All the information you can get now. It’s amazing.”

What also amazes is William Scott Bowman’s voracious appetite to absorb it all. He became a head coach with the St. Louis Blues in 1967, shortly after the NHL expanded to 12 franchises. Now, 18 franchises later, he remains involved, energetic and, above all, contemporary. Times changed during Bowman’s reign, but right up until he departed the bench with the champion Detroit Red Wings in 2002, he changed too. Yet he brought old school values to the modern classroom.

“I tried to adjust, because you have to adjust,” Bowman says. “But you still have to make sure it’s known who’s in charge, even though everything is so different. I mean, when I started in St. Louis, our broadcaster, Dan Kelly, would ask me before a game what my lines were going to be. I would tell him, ‘If you can get the other team’s lines, I’ll give you mine.’ You didn’t know that much about the opposition. Not like now, when everything is out there, on TV and all. I was a one-man show in St. Louis. The first assistant coach behind the bench, to my knowledge, happened when Fred Shero appointed Mike Nykoluk with the Philadelphia Flyer teams that won Cups in the early ‘70s. Now every team has assistants, goalkeeping coaches, strength coaches, nutritionists, psychologists. Different, very different.”

Bowman obviously is proud of son Stan, who became the youngest general manager ever to win a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks last June. But the hunch is, even if Stan had evolved into the richest and most famous accountant ever after graduating from Notre Dame and never followed his father’s path, Scotty still would be poring over scores and highlights.

“It’s such a fast game now!” Scotty exclaims. “I mean, the defensemen in the league now are almost rovers. Look at Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. They all skate so well now. The days of hiding a guy who can’t skate, they’re gone. Everybody is faster and bigger and it’s the same everywhere. I see a lot of junior and college hockey too. It’s the same way down there. I worry about the concussions. Most of the problems are along the boards. Years ago, there was some give in the glass. I remember when there was no glass. It was wire, chicken wire. There’s no give anymore. I don’t know what you do about that. The officiating? Two referees now, and it seems to me sometimes they can’t wait to blow the whistle. Can’t wait to call a penalty. Just my opinion. You can write that.”

Scotty does occasionally play golf. After all, there are no hockey games on TV at dawn. He also has enjoyed a labor of love at several U.S. and British Opens as a walking scorer. In 2000, this most decorated coach in NHL annals witnessed history when recording Tiger Woods’ 15-shot victory in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Cal.

“I had met Tiger at an event a few months before, celebrating the 20th century in sports, not that he would have remembered me,” Scotty recalls. “Anyway, that Sunday at Pebble Beach, I was with him for 18 holes, inside the ropes, maybe 10 yards from him, marking down every shot. He was unbelievable, of course. But after, we go to the scoring trailer, just a few of us. He looks up and says, ‘Scotty, what are you doing here?’ I told him that I had been scoring his round for the last four hours. He said, ‘Well, did you have a good time out there?’ I told him, “Not as good as you did.’

"That shows you how focused he was on playing golf. It was just him and the ball and his caddie. Tiger didn’t see anything else. And he’s winning by 15 shots! Amazing.”

So is the Oracle, and he’s coming soon to chicagoblackhawks.com.