Even a competitor as fierce as the Colorado Avalanche superstar was able to go from rival to fan when he faced the interim head coach of the Dallas Stars (?) And sometimes his golf partner.
” Go and get it. Go get it, ”the Hart Trophy finalist told the league’s oldest bench boss.
“We’re all cheering you on at home now, eh?”
A fellow Maritimer, Bowness, 65, was slow to join off-season neighbors MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby at their respective homes on Grand Lake, a half-hour drive north of Halifax.
Six decades into the game he adores, the affable Bowness is busy with his closest best chance at winning the Stanley Cup – a dream that will come one step closer to reality if his Stars, in up 3-1 in the Western final, can close. the Vegas Golden Knights with three game points this week.
“Losing sucks. But losing to such a great person in Rick makes it a bit easier, I guess, ”MacKinnon explained. “It’s a class act.
“Everyone supports him. Everyone wishes him the best. Myself included. ”
Bowness led his first NHL bench in 1989, when he rose through the junior ranks for the first incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets, and coached 65 players who entered the bubbles this summer, a group spanning 18 of 24 post -season. teams.
The lifelong hockey player is so regarded and connected that it would be a bigger surprise if MacKinnon didn’t know “Bones”.
Heck, even Bowness ‘own boss, Stars general manager Jim Nill, played for him in the’ 80s.
“Hey listen: that’s the main reason I came to Dallas [from Tampa Bay] first, two summers ago, ”Bowness says of Nill. “His character, his honesty – you know where you are at. He is an honest and hard-working man determined to win.
While both friends / colleagues will stick to the plan to sit down at the end of the season, hopefully with a Stanley Cup full of Bud Light on the table and a talk contract, Nill made it clear. a Hockey night in Canada interview on Saturday that he wants to remove the “tentative” tag from Bowness’ job title.
“He deserved it, and I hope he wants to be a head coach later on,” Nill revealed. “He makes these guys play the way they should play.”
The way they should play is altruistic. It’s impactful, blocking and regaling the special teams. (And yes, it leans, sometimes too much, on the heroism of goalie # 2 turned # 1 Anton Khudobin.) It’s that “2-1 mentality” that Bowness proudly talks about that allows the Stars to be comfortable in tight contests and tighter series.
Ignore the attractive class of 2020 free agent coaches, the Gerard Gallants and Peter Laviolettes and Bruce Boudreaus and Mike Babcocks.
Give Bowness the full time job.
Just ask the Washington Capitals what happens when you fiddle with a smart fit.
Bowness has his group leading a series 3-1 despite the total score locked at 6-6, which has Dallas within 60 minutes of its first final place in 21 years despite a minus-3 goal differential in the playoffs.
“We weren’t supposed to beat Calgary. We weren’t supposed to beat Colorado. We weren’t supposed to be where we are today. So give our guys a lot of credit for their resilience and ability to exceed our team’s expectations, ”Bowness said Monday.
“We are not intimidated by the situation. We are not intimidated by not playing well. We’re not intimidated by a goal or two behind. We believe in ourselves and we will overcome these obstacles.
The hurdle Bowness crossed this season was finding himself blinded by a mid-season promotion when Stars coach Jim Montgomery was fired from a good team due to sobriety issues.
At first, Bowness – both an old-school hockey player and a player coach – didn’t find it necessary to tinker with the Montgomery system. Hey, the Stars were winning.
But as the Stars slipped in March, going 0-4-2 in their last six games before the break, Bowness used quarantine to reconsider and then maximize his legacy roster.
Structurally, Dallas had played well enough to win most of those games, but the goals just weren’t there.
Bowness decided he needed to make better use of the ‘elite guys at the back’ and push Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg to jump into the game. He also insisted on protecting the puck in the offensive zone, encouraging his great forwards to roll, drive for high percentage shots and go for a second chance.
The results are clear.
Dallas scores 2.95 goals per game against strong Western powers, up from 2.58 in the regular season. His power play has increased from 21.1% to 25.8% and is more effective than any standing team.
Heiskanen’s 22 points lead all blues in the playoffs, Klingberg has 14 points in 19 appearances and Jamie Oleksiak is here scoring breakaway goals on one of the best goalkeepers in the sport.
“We are now reaping the rewards of his chance to make his mark on this team. I was very impressed, ”says Nill, crediting her coach’s diligence during the break. “For what he’s been doing right now, he’s made a strong statement. The most important thing is to watch how the players react.
“Rick has the full support of the players, and that’s very important. ”
They listened when, in Game 4, Bowness asked them not to be frustrated with a questionable penalty call that gave Vegas a long 5-to-3 power play. And they don’t make a fuss when a respected pro like Andrew Cogliano is healthy.
“Bonesy is awesome,” says Oleksiak. “He’s an easy guy to talk to. There is always an open line of communication with him. He’s a very positive guy, and he obviously has a lot of knowledge in the league.
“He’s been around for a while, and he’s not afraid to tell you how it is and if you need to resume. He’s always there with positive feedback. He’s definitely a guy you want to play hard for.