Hockey legend Scotty Bowman has taken on the role of coach once again for a new book about his life and legacy.
In Scotty: A Hockey Life Like No Other, goalie-turned-author Ken Dryden asks his former coach to pick the eight best NHL teams of all time, during their best seasons, and pits them against each other in a hypothetical play-off series.
“I think that part of the reason why there hasn’t been a book really about Scotty before is that usually sports books, and books from coaches, are about stories … and Scotty doesn’t experience in stories. He doesn’t really think in stories. He’s too practical. He’s a coach,” Dryden said.
“So instead of focusing on what he’s less comfortable with, put him back into a place where he is most comfortable. Make him a coach.”
Often described as the best hockey coach of all time, Bowman holds the record for most NHL victories, with 1,248 wins in the regular season and 223 in the playoffs. He’s also taken home nine Stanley Cup championships as coach — more than any other coach in league history.
‘I was able to watch the best — and you learn by watching’
In his book, Dryden weaves a narrative about Bowman’s life and career, all while picking his brain about Canadian hockey history — something he has watched unfold, helped to shape and been at the centre of.
Bowman has lived and breathed the game since he was a 14-year-old kid with a standing room pass to the Montreal Forum.
He watched Maurice (Rocket) Richard playing at at the peak of his career. He saw Gordie Howe starting out when he was a teenager. He even scouted Bobby Orr at the tender age of 13.
“Like any young person growing up in Canada in those days, hockey was your life and, you know, I was fortunate because I was able to watch the NHL, I was able to watch the best — and you learn by watching,” Bowman said.
Watch: Ken Dryden and Scotty Bowman on the toughest players in the NHL:
Still, Bowman — ever the coach — holds nothing back in the book when asked to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of history’s greatest teams and players.
“What easily happens when you’re telling stories is this player, oh he’s great, and that’s great. Great, great, great, great. Not everybody’s great,” Dryden said.
“The Rocket didn’t score every game. Gordie Howe was lousy at times. Bobby Orr’s teams lost, you know, often. And so what happened then? What is it that you, as a coach, would do to understand those players, to bring out the best? But at the same time, if you were coaching against them, what would you do? How would you defeat them?”
Remembering the ‘bad moments’
For Dryden, interviewing Bowman was also immensely personal, as the two NHL Hall of Famers share a rich and complex history.
Bowman was Dryden’s coach for seven years when he was a goalie for the Montreal Canadiens.
In all that time, Dryden says he can only remember two “bad moments” between them.
The first was during the 1972-73 season, when Dryden says he kept having “mini-tantrums,” slamming his stick on the ice and scowling, after letting goals in.
“Finally, Scotty, after I’m sure a few weeks of this, he sort of had enough, and just came up to me in practice one day and said, ‘You think you’re too big for this team?'” Dryden told As It Happens host Carol Off, as Bowman sat next to him listening intently.
“That was hard to take.”
In fact, Dryden was so sore about it that when the Canadiens won the cup, he refused to hug his coach back during the on-ice celebrations.
All these years later, he finally understands why Bowman did what he did.
“He was saying … all of those gestures you’re making, essentially what you’re saying is that you have a standard that is different from anyone else’s. You have a need to win different from anyone else’s. You are, you know, unwilling to accept certain things in a way that others are willing to accept them, and that you’re too good in that way,” he said.
“It was an important moment.”
Watch: Ken Dryden and Scotty Bowman on what they do with their championship rings:
The second moment of tension was during the 1979 Challenge Cup between the NHL All-Stars and the Soviet Union national team when Bowman was coach.
The NHL took the first game with Dryden in the net, but lost the second. In Game 3, Bowman pulled Dryden, replacing him with goalie Gerry Cheevers.
“I was crushed,” Dryden said. “It was the coach of our team that was essentially saying in a moment of a game that had to be won that somebody else was going to be the goalie.”
The NHL All-Stars lost that game 6-0, and ultimately lost the series too. But still, Dryden now understands that Bowman had to do what he thought was best for everyone.
Ultimately, he says he looks back fondly on their relationship.
“In seven years, that’s pretty good, you know, having only two moments like that that I can recall,” he said.
‘It’s pretty difficult to dismiss what Scotty says’
Of course, interviewing Bowman for the book meant opening himself up yet again to criticism from his former coach — especially once it became time to rank the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup champions, with Dryden in the net and Bowman at the helm.
“You develop a stake in what it is you’ve done, and you’re proud of what has happened and you don’t want judgment cast on what it is you’ve done,” Dryden said.
“It’s easier to dismiss somebody else’s judgment. It’s pretty difficult to dismiss what Scotty says and thinks about the team and about me.”
But when it comes to coaching, Bowman says he never lets his personal feelings impact his choices.
“It wasn’t like I picked a favourite team. I had a system. So it wasn’t that difficult, once you backed it up with what you saw and what you see ended up,” Bowman said.
If you want to find out who won, Scotty: A Hockey Life Like No Other is on sale Oct. 29.
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Morgan Passi.
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