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Dallas coach Rick Bowness and his GM boss Jim Nill used to be coach and player, then coach and scout, which is obviously a far different dynamic than today, but still friends for more than three decades.
“I had to bench him a few times,” kidded Bowness as he recalled his Winnipeg coaching days.
“There’s still bitterness over that,” laughed Nill.
So Nill wasn’t a 200-foot player when Bowness coached him as part of Barry Long’s staff in Winnipeg in the mid ’80s? He didn’t see GM written all over him? Well, actually he did, sort of.
“Jim was one of those low-maintenance guys who showed up every day ready to work, high character and aways stuck up for his teammates. When you see that passion for the game, it’s usually those guys who move into management … scouting, coaching, whatever,” said Bowness.
“Am I surprised he’s sitting here with me as the general manager? No, not at all.”
The two were also together with the rag-tag expansion Ottawa Senators in the early ’90s. So much water under the bridge.
“A lot of those losses in Ottawa were probably because of my scouting,” laughed Nill.
“That’s what the coaches used to say … we’d be saying, man those scouts don’t know what they’re doing,’” joked Bowness, who had no hope with the rag-tag Senators, 39-178-18 there.
“Yeah, we weren’t a very good team and I probably wasn’t a very good coach at that point,” said Bowness. “But I obviously love what I do because I’m stlll at this.”
KEEP FIRING AWAY
When Paul Coffey presents the Norris trophy to the NHL’s top defenceman Monday, it probably won’t be going to Victor Hedman, who’ll likely be third behind either Roman Josi or John Carlson, who got more hype, but Hedman went into Saturday’s Game 1 with Dallas with nine playoff goals, only three back of Coffey’s NHL best 12 in ’85 for the Edmonton Oilers.
The Tampa defenceman could be the leading Conn Smythe MVP candidate.
“He’s six-foot-six, the best skating man of his size I’ve ever seen. East-west, forwards, backwards, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Bowness, who coached Hedman in Tampa. “Great offensive skills … he’ll be close to 30 minutes in the game (1) and trying to dominate. That’s why he’s won the Norris and is always in the running. Special athlete.”
Hedman went No. 2 in the 2009 draft, behind John Tavares (Islanders). That was a very good top-end to the draft. Matt Duchene went third, then Evander Kane, Brayden Schenn, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Nazem Kadri. Of those top seven, only Hedman and OEL (Arizona) have not been traded or left their teams, though.
TWO FOR PRICE OF ONE
Tampa’s Patrick Maroon has been the Big Rig for years around the NHL and Dallas’s Jamie Oleksiak is also a large as an oil derrick.
So who’s the real deal?
“Hockey guys have a tendency to reuse nicknames and there’s been a few Big Rigs around the league. The boys call me Rig. They call him that. It is what it is,” said the six-foot-seven Oleksiak.
STEPPING UP BIG TIME
Yanni Gourde had a pedestrian regular season with 10 goals and 30 points but he’s been a dynamic player for Tampa in the playoffs, 12 points in 19 games going into the final. He scored the opening goal of the game for the Lightning on Saturday.
“Yanni played a lot of the season on the wing but after the (NHL) pause we put him in the middle and wanted to take advantage of his skating and tenacity,” said Tampa coach Jon Cooper.
“We wanted to see if he could handle the load in the defensive end and he’s easily done that. He’s given us that depth line (Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman) that can start every period; they’re a pain to play against. He’s leading the charge.”
SPECTATOR LAST TIME
Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin, also in the hunt for the playoff MVP, was one of the Black Aces in 2011 in Boston when they won the Cup behind Tim Thomas, another goalie who flies against convention being smaller.
“I don’t think I try to copy anybody. I’ve tried to follow what I can follow to the strong side of the goalie kitchen,” said Khudobin.
Khudobin’s carried the ball through the playoffs because Ben Bishop’s been hurt, but the Lightning have ridden Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has played every single playoff minute and he also played 52 of their 70 league games. Two different approaches in net.
“I’ve been around both,” said Bowness. “In my seven years in Vancouver (right-hand man to Marc Crawford), we were fortunate to have a great goaltender, Roberto Luongo, who wanted to play every night and he was awesome and he took us to the finals. Louie wanted the ball every night And in my first few years in Tampa, Bishop took us to the finals. But with the travel in Dallas, this (tandem) has worked well for this organization.”
This ’n that: Tampa coach Cooper doesn’t have family members in Edmonton for the final. “No loved ones but I can feel the love from a distance. It’s tough when you’re in the bubble, it’s hockey, hockey, hockey,” he said … Tyler Seguin’s first trip to Edmonton was to play in the famous Brick (novice) International tournament at West Edmonton Mall 20 years ago. Now he’s in the final here.
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