William Scott Bowman is the greatest coach in the history of the National Hockey League and may be the best coach of any of North America’s major professional sports.
Born in Verdun, Quebec–a working-class suburb of Montreal—on September 18, 1933, as the second of four children, Bowman’s parents were Scottish immigrants. His father worked as a blacksmith for the railroad and never took a sick day in 31 years and young Scotty inherited that work ethic. There were dozens of rinks in Verdun and Bowman learned to play hockey at a young age. By 18, he was fine checking left winger for the Montreal Junior Canadiens in the Quebec Provincial Junior Hockey League [QPJHL] and was considered a pro prospect. On March 6, 1952, Bowman was on a breakaway in a playoff game against the Trois-Rivieres Reds when a Reds defender hit him in the head with his stick, fracturing his skull and opening a five-inch gash that required 14 stitches. Bowman sat out one game before returning. “I was never the same player afterward. I just didn’t have the confidence. I had a lot of headaches and blurred vision.” In 1955, Bowman took a job selling paint by day while coaching junior hockey at night. Within three years, he got his first head coaching job with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League.
The NHL expanded from six to twelve teams for the 1967-68 season and one of the new clubs, the St. Louis Blues, hired Scotty Bowman as an assistant coach. Sixteen games into the campaign, Bowman replaced Lynn Patrick, who had resigned, as head coach. Bowman guided the Blues to the Stanley Cup Finals in his first three seasons before joining the Montreal Canadiens in 1971. He guided the Habs to the Stanley Cup title in 1973 and followed with four consecutive championships from 1975 to 1979. After being passed over for a promotion to GM, he left Montreal for Buffalo, where he became head coach and GM of the Sabres. Bowman led the Sabres to the semi-finals or finals in five of his six seasons in Buffalo, leaving in 1987 as the winningest coach in franchise history. He spent three years as color analyst for CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada” before becoming Director of Player Personnel of the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning a Stanley Cup in 1990. The following year, he took over as head coach following the death of Bob Johnson and led the Pens to another championship. In 1993-94, Mr. Bowman became coach of the Detroit Red Wings, where he directed them to their first Stanley Cup title in 42 years in 1997. The Wings repeated the following year before adding a third championship in 2002, Bowman’s final season as head coach. He remained with Detroit as a Consultant, winning another Stanley Cup in 2008.
Scotty Bowman is the only coach in history to lead three different teams to a Stanley Cup championship. He reached the Finals 13 times and the semi-finals in 16 seasons, both records. In 30 years of coaching, Bowman’s teams made the playoffs 29 times. He is the NHL’s all-time winningest coach with 1,244 regular season wins and 223 postseason victories. Bowman was a brilliant strategist, changing lineups and on-ice schemes to keep opponents off balance, but his greatest asset may have been his adaptive style. Brandan Shanahan, who won three Stanley Cups playing for Bowman in Detroit, said, “He started coaching guys who had summer jobs and crew cuts and now he’s coaching guys with Ferraris, earrings, blond streaks and agents.” Bowman passed Canadiens legend Hector “Toe” Blake with his record ninth Stanley Cup as a head coach and has been part of 14 Cup-winning teams, including three with the Chicago Blackhawks, for whom he has served as Senior Advisor to Hockey Operations for the past eight seasons. His son, Stan, is currently Vice President/General Manager of the Blackhawks. Mr. Bowman won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year in 1977 and 1996 and has coached in a record 2,499 NHL games. In 1975-76, he set a single-season record with 58 wins in Montreal. The following year, he won 60 games. He broke it again in 1995-96 by winning 62 games in Detroit. Bowman was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991, won the 2001 Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey in the U.S. and was made an Officer in the Order of Canada “for his contributions to hockey as coach and mentor” in 2012. In 1998, Sports Illustrated proclaimed Scotty Bowman the best coach in the history of North American major pro sports.
On this date in 1997, Scotty Bowman became the first coach in NHL history to win 1,000 games when his Detroit Red Wings beat the Dallas Stars, 4-3, in overtime at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.