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Lightning dismissed Rick Bowness two years ago. Now both are playing for the Stanley Cup

The Stars interim head coach was Tampa Bay’s assistant for five years.
Dallas Stars coach Rick Bowness served as assistant coach to Jon Cooper on the Lightning for five years and is now coaching against him in the Stanley Cup final.
Dallas Stars coach Rick Bowness served as assistant coach to Jon Cooper on the Lightning for five years and is now coaching against him in the Stanley Cup final. [ JASON FRANSON | AP ]
Published Sep. 19, 2020
Updated Sep. 19, 2020

Rick Bowness can be connected to nearly every team in the league after 40 years of playing and coaching in the NHL. But right now, the Dallas Stars coach’s connections to his opponent are strongest and most relevant.

Bowness served as assistant coach to Jon Cooper on the Lightning for five years and is now coaching against him in the Stanley Cup final. It’s the first time in NHL history that a coach is facing his former assistant in the Cup final.

“We had five very good years,” Bowness said of his time with the Lightning, recounting two trips to the conference final and one to the Stanley Cup final.

Related: The Lightning are a more experienced — and they hope better — team than the 2015 version

Bowness and Cooper both have nothing but good things to say about each other. Cooper recounted a short conversation they had when they happened to sit at neighboring tables for dinner, exchanging pleasantries.

“As a coach, listen, there comes a point when you know it’s time to move on and I was ready to move on,” Bowness said. “It was a split that was good for both of us. I was ready to move on, they were ready to move on from me, so no hard feelings. That’s hockey. I was ready to move on, they were ready to move on, so it worked out great for both of us.”

In the long term, it does look to have worked out well. Bowness is a head coach for the first time since 20 games in 2004, and before that it was 1998. Technically, he’s still carrying an “interim” tag, but indications are he’ll get the permanent gig.

But as he repeated for the third time that both parties were ready to move on, he crossed his arms across his chest and pressed his lips together, looking off camera.

The Lightning and Bowness didn’t split because his contract was up and both decided not to pursue another one. He was relieved of his duties after the Lightning lost to the Capitals in the 2018 Eastern Conference final.

Bowness had been the coach of the defensemen for five years at that time and then-general manager Steve Yzerman said the team’s defense was “not quite there.”

About a week later, Bowness was no longer with the Lightning.

However it went down, neither Cooper nor Bowness has anything negative to say about the other.

Cooper spoke about having wanted to hire an assistant, when he was new to the league, who would be something of a mentor.

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“I was very fortunate to run into Rick Bowness, because he was in between organizations at the time,” Cooper said. “I learned so much from him about how the league works, how to have success in this league. We spent half a decade together.”

Lightning center Brayden Point indicated Bowness' passion for the game, his experience and the depth of his knowledge.

“Bonesy was awesome,” Point said. “He was super good to me, and I think if you asked anyone who played for him, they’d say the same thing.”

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman previously credited Bowness for helping him develop his game, a strong vote of confidence seeing how Hedman is universally acknowledged as one of the league’s best defensemen.

Cooper repeated what Bowness said about change being good for both sides, saying the split was amicable and coaches change teams all the team.

There’s no doubt their time together with the Lightning was good for all.

“I’m probably not sitting here today,” Cooper said, “without a lot of the help of Rick Bowness.”

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos on Twitter.