Former Jets coach Rick Bowness 4 wins away from elusive Stanley Cup

By | September 17, 2020

A lifelong pursuit.

That’s the best way to explain Halifax’s Rick Bowness and his chase for the Stanley Cup.

He is the oldest coach in the NHL and he’s back in the Stanley Cup final, where he lost in his first two attempts. The interim head coach of the Dallas Stars has another shot to win hockey’s holy grail.

“When you get an opportunity to get here in the playoffs, it’s incredibly difficult,” said Bowness. “We’re all pretty excited about moving on to the finals.”

Rick Bowness during the Ottawa Senators vs. Buffalo Sabres game at the AUD in Buffalo, New York on Nov.27, 1992. (Rick Stewart/ALLSPORT)

The Stars advanced to the Stanley Cup Final by beating the Vegas Golden Knights in a five-game series capped off with an overtime win inside the NHL’s Edmonton bubble on Monday night.

Bowness, 65, began the 2019-20 NHL season as an assistant coach with Dallas. But he became the interim head coach in December when the team fired Jim Montgomery for unprofessional conduct. Now he’s just four wins from hoisting Lord Stanley’s mug, the prize he has been chasing for five decades as a coach and player.

Bowness was born in Moncton, N.B., but when he was an infant his family moved to Halifax where he was raised.

He played in 173 NHL games in a playing career that was spread over seven years with four different teams. In 1982 he was a player-coach in the minors with the Sherbrooke Jets, the farm team of the Winnipeg Jets.

He later became an assistant coach in Winnipeg and got the Jets head coaching job in 1989.

“You just have to enjoy every day of it, it’s been a long ride and we’re not done yet,” he said.

Bowness, who normally returns home to Nova Scotia every summer to be with his family and play lots of golf with his close friends at the Oakfield Golf Club, has been a head coach for six different teams.

Following Winnipeg he coached in Boston for one season before he went to Ottawa for four woeful years with the Senators expansion franchise. Later came head coaching gigs with the New York Islanders and Phoenix Coyotes.

Phoenix Coyotes new head coach Wayne Gretzky announces his associate coaches Rick Tocchet, Barry Smith and Rick Bowness to the media after being announced as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes on August 8, 2005 at Glendale Arena in Glendale, Arizona. (Barry Gossage/Getty Images)

“There’ve been a lot of moves, you get fired and it’s like next job up, let’s go,” said Bowness. “I tell all the young players in the league today that every day in this league is a blessing.”

Stanley Cup losses

It was when he was an assistant coach in Vancouver in 2011 that he had his closest brush with the Stanley Cup. The Canucks had a 3-2 series lead over Boston but heartbreak sunk in as the Canucks lost two games in a row.

“We ran into some serious injury problems in that series and it really cost us and [Boston goaltender] Tim Thomas was outstanding and they deserved to win it.”

In February 2015, Bowness was an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning when he set an NHL record for most games coached (head coach and assistant), passing legendary Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman.

The Lightning made it to the Stanley Cup final that year where they were beaten by Chicago. Bowness spent five seasons with Tampa Bay but he was not re-signed after the team lost in the 2018 playoffs. Dallas became his next stop.

As a coach and player who has seen just about everything, the man known around the league as “Bones” admits this season has been like no other. COVID-19 forced the league to shut down late in the regular season and then start up again in mid-summer with bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.

“This has been the most bizarre year of my career by far,” said Bowness. “I haven’t touched grass in over seven weeks, we have a courtyard where you can step outside and get a Tim Hortons coffee but that’s about it, it’s a mental grind on everyone.”

Bowness is shown in August before a game against the Calgary Flames. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Bowness said his players have been able to board a bus and head to a local sports field for some workouts but they spend the rest of their time inside the hotel, which is connected to Rogers Place.

Nova Scotia Strong

The Stars have played great hockey in this year’s playoffs with wins over Calgary, Colorado and Vegas. They’ve been led by Anton Khudobin, a veteran backup goaltender from Russia.

They also have some of the NHL’s best young European players who have gelled well with steady veterans like Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Corey Perry.

In the Stanley Cup Final the team will face either Tampa Bay or the Islanders, who are still battling it out in the Eastern Conference Final.

Bowness said he is proud to be a Nova Scotian and wears a Nova Scotia Strong ribbon on the lapel of his suit jacket during each playoff game in honour of the victims who lost their lives in the mass shooting in his home province in April.

Little known facts about Rick Bowness:

  • During his first stint as a coach in Winnipeg he was fined $500 and suspended for three games for throwing a punch at Calgary Flames tough guy Tim Hunter.
  • His boss in Dallas is general manager Jim Nill. Bowness coached Nill when he played in Winnipeg.
  • Bowness’s son Ryan is the director of pro scouting for the Pittsburgh Penguins and had the Stanley Cup home for a day in 2017 where they had a party at Bowness’s house. Bowness said he did not touch the trophy.

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