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Lightning's Bowness a coaching lifer -- with one regret (w/ video)

Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness, third from left, was surrounded by family when he set the record for most NHL games coached Friday in Minnesota. From left, cousin Hugh Bowness; Rick’s wife, Judy; his daughter, Kristen, and son Ryan.
Published Feb. 12, 2017

When Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness broke Scotty Bowman's record Friday for most NHL games coached, it wasn't his first brush with the Hall of Famer.

Bowman, 83, said he has known Bowness, 62, since Bowness played juniors in Montreal. As a young player, Bowness watched Bowman run practices with the Canadiens. Bowness observed the now-retired Bowman on each of NHL his coaching stops.

"He doesn't know how much I studied him," Bowness said.

That didn't help when Bowness coached against Bowman's Penguins in the 1992 Eastern Conference final. Bowness' Ray Bourque-less Bruins were swept. Bowness said Bowman was the best at maximizing on-ice matchups.

"You had to be really sharp," Bowness said.

Bowness and Bowman took different paths to their coaching landmarks. Bowness has racked up most of his 2,165 games as an assistant. Bowman is regarded as the best head coach of all time, a nine-time Stanley Cup winner.

But Bowman sees common threads.

"Rick is a lifer and like myself has moved around for better opportunities," Bowman said. "He has found a good niche in Tampa with Jon Cooper. Someone will always break records, and I am pleased that Rick is the one breaking mine."

The beginning

Bowness got his start in coaching at age 28, joking that it was because he wasn't a very good player. His last player contract included a clause with a separate salary if he retired and became coach, and he did, becoming a player-coach with Winnipeg's AHL Sherbrooke team in 1982 when coach Ron Racette was recovering from a brain tumor. "I was thrown into the fire," Bowness said.

Traveling man

Bowness said he told his wife, Judy, that he'd coach maybe 10 years and they'd go back home to Nova Scotia. It has turned into a four-decade adventure, with stints as a head coach with the expansion Senators, Islanders, Bruins, Phoenix and Winnipeg in which he went 123-289-48. Bowness credits his family for its support in all his moves. So it was fitting that Judy, his son Ryan and his daughter, Kristen, were in Minnesota on Friday for the milestone game. "I wouldn't have coached one day, let alone all these years, without (Judy's) love and support and willingness to say, 'Okay, let's pack up, and where are we going?' " Bowness said.

The motivation

What drives Bowness to stay in the game is his burning desire to win a Stanley Cup. He came close in Vancouver, which lost Game 7 of the 2011 Cup final to Boston, and with the Lightning, which lost the 2015 Cup final to Chicago. "The two biggest disappointments of my life, by far," he said. "They still eat away at me."

The future

Bowness, in his fourth year with the Lightning, signed a two-year contract extension last summer, when he was a runnerup for the head coaching vacancy in Anaheim. Bowness said he has turned down a few offers to be an assistant GM. His first priority is winning the Cup with the Lightning. If not? "I can look back at my life and say, 'Man, I've worked in a game my whole life,' " he said. "That's pretty good."

Trade talk

• Goalie Ben Bishop's resurgence the past week has been good timing for the Lightning. It increases his value for contenders leading up to the March 1 trade deadline. But by Bishop could also play a key role in Tampa Bay making the playoffs. It makes for a tough call for GM Steve Yzerman. All is quiet on the Bishop trade front.

•Yzerman scouted the Panthers-Ducks game in Sunrise on Feb. 3. It makes sense with the Ducks having a glut of defensemen and a need at forward, and Tampa Bay having a surplus of forwards. Also, Yzerman chatted with Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli during Friday's game in Minnesota. You wonder if the young Edmonton team could use a veteran like forward Brian Boyle, 32, a pending unrestricted free agent. The Oilers inquired about Boyle, but Yzerman's asking price was too high, Canada's Sportsnet TV network reported.

•No surprise to see the magazine Fourth Period report that center Valtteri Filppula is on the trading block. That has been the case for a while, with the Lightning hoping to move Filppula's $5 million cap hit for next season, along with defenseman Jason Garrison ($4.6 million).


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