There are always interesting and twisting plot lines in the Stanley Cup Final, but they’re usually on the ice not behind the bench, where the Tampa Bay and Dallas head coaches used to be brothers-in-arms.
Like Jon Cooper and Rick Bowness, who got to the 2015 Cup final together with the Lightning, but now it’s the first time a head man has gone against his former associate in the finals. Neither has ever carried the Cup around the rink so both want this badly at Rogers Place.
But back five years to this story.
Cooper had proven he could win in the AHL but 2013 was his first NHL shot. Enter Bowness who had started down his 36-year NHL coaching road as the Winnipeg Jets assistant to Barry Long in 1984-85 when Cooper was still in high-school at Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Sask.
“Back in 2013 when I was brought in to coach the Lightning, everybody would say, ‘Hey, you’re a new coach in the league’ and I would say, ‘Well, I don’t consider myself new to coaching, just the NHL,’” said Cooper. “And going through the hiring process it was about bringing somebody in that knew the league and as a mentor for myself.”
Certainly Bowness knew where all the visiting team dressing rooms were.
“I was very fortunate to run into Rick Bowness. He was between organizations at the time and I learned so much from him, how the league works, and how to have success in this league and we spent half a decade together (in Tampa). We had some pretty good runs, especially in 2015 when Bones was a pretty big part of it.”
Bowness remembers his Tampa days fondly.
“Five great years there, the team went to three Conference finals and the Cup final in 2015,” said Bowness. “But as a coach there comes a time when it’s time to move on. There was a split. I wanted to move on and they wanted to move on. No hard feelings. Worked out great for both of us.”
“Eventually you part ways and it was amicable … in this league as you see coaches change teams all the time and sometimes a fresh start is needed and probably that was needed for both of us,” said Cooper. “I’m probably not sitting here without the help of Rick Bowness.”
The two have chatted during the bubble experience.
“The night before Game 6, we were at a table beside the Dallas staff, which is unique in itself how you run into everybody here. We’re on different schedules on opposite nights but we talked and I congratulated him, ” said Cooper.
STARTING OUT SMALL
Tampa Bay Game 6 overtime hero Anthony Cirelli wasn’t this star in waiting on travelling rep teams as a youngster in Ontario. When he was nine years old in Ontario, he was only playing single A hockey for the atom Humberview Huskies.
So what about that?
“(GM) Julien (BriseBois) and I have kids ourselves who play youth hockey in that 10-13 year range and the one thing I would tell any youth player is it doesn’t matter how many A’s are in the league you’re playing in, as long as you’re playing and having fun. That’s the best development,” said Cooper.
LIKE FATHER LIKE SON?
Nope. Bowness’ son Ryan got a Stanley Cup ring in Pittsburgh as a pro scout in 2017, something his dad is still looking for. He’d like to even the count.
“He brought the Cup back home to the house in Nova Scotia and we had a big party for him, lots of pictures with it, obviously, I didn’t touch it,” said Bowness.
“He’s got a real passion for the game. When I’d take him to the rink in the morning (80s and 90s), he would run right by me into the locker room and he’d be hanging up equipment and help doing the dirty laundry with them and was so thrilled when they would give him a piece of pizza for lunch, He’s a lot smarter than his old man. He stayed away from coaching.”
ABOUT NOT BEING WANTED
Last June, Anaheim said goodbye to Corey Perry, with two years left on his contract, and now he’s in his second Cup final, winning it all with the Ducks in 2007 as an NHL rookie.
“Last season wasn’t easy, starting it with knee surgery and coming back to play 25 or 30 games, then being told you’re being bought out,” said Perry. “That wasn’t the easiest conversation we had (with GM Bob Murray) but they wanted to go a different way.
“There were no hard feelings. You end one chapter and start a new chapter. But you go through free-agency for the first time, and it’s a roller-coaster. It’s 15-16 months since then (signing with Dallas) and it’s kind of weird. We’re still playing the same season.”
This ’n that: Injured Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos (core muscle), looking like a mountain man with his bushy playoff beard, won’t be playing Game 1.
“He’s still rehabbing; we haven’t ruled him out,” said BriseBois.
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