CHICAGO — Every man who was lucky enough to have an exceptional role model as a father will tell you the same thing: as we age, we turn into our dads.
It’s in an instruction we give to our kids. A loose thought we have, followed by the feeling that we’ve heard that somewhere before. A tenet of trying to be a good person that we strive for, and we know exactly where it came from.
Now, try being Stan Bowman, a general manager in this Stanley Cup final and son of the great Scotty Bowman.
“Yes,” he admits. “I find myself doing and saying a lot of things he has (said and) done over the years.”
Stan, who turns 40 next Friday, was born shortly after his father’s Montreal Canadiens defeated Chicago in the 1973 Stanley Cup. But as he chases after the trophy for which he was named, he does so under his own spotlight.
Stan Bowman has retooled a team that was dismantled after the 2010 Stanley Cup victory, and building it back to the team that is battling the Boston Bruins for supremacy again this spring.
He is experienced enough now, not to be dependent on his father’s wisdom. He is smart enough, however, to avail himself of it often.
“It’s not like I wait ‘til there is an issue and then I call,” Stan said on Friday, as he watched his team practice at the United Center. “I talk to him during the season every couple of days. We have an ongoing dialogue … about things in general. I ask his opinion on our team, on other teams, other games he’s watched, players, our young players…
“It’s a pretty comprehensive thing,” Stan said. “He loves to talk, and he loves to talk hockey
Does he ever.
We caught up to Scotty over the phone from his home in Buffalo, where he went home for the two off days. He yakked about hockey for 35 minutes, his legendary conversational waywardness still intact.
He has collected 12 Stanley Cup rings as a coach and general managers over the many years, and Scotty’s official title here is Sr. Advisor, Hockey Operations. It hasn’t been a seamless transition sine he came here from Detroit to work with the Blackhawks, however.
Hockey can be a paranoid place, and when a man of Bowman’s experience is brought in, people get nervous. The insertion of right-hand man Barry Smith last season as a power-play specialist rubbed Joel Quenneville the wrong way, people close to this organization admit, and Scotty has stepped back since.
As Scotty has watched his son’s relationship with Quenneville grow, however, he takes fatherly pride in describing the different path his son has found in the coach-GM relationship. One that works well.
“When you’ve coached and then you manage — and I was like this at one time — you still think as a coach,” Scotty said. “Stan doesn’t fancy himself as a coach.
“He’s got a good rapport with Joel.”
Stan has stuck by his talents as Chicago’s former capologist under ex-GM Dale Tallon, and added his player personnel skills. The result: As the Andrew Shaws, Bryan Bickells, Brandon Saads and Corey Crawfords emerge as quality players in Chicago, they simultaneously make the Blackhawks a better team and strengthen Bowman’s cap position.
This team isn’t all ageing at the same time. As such, it will be competitive for a long time.
“He doesn’t ask me a lot of questions. He’s his own guy that way. He says, ‘I’d like to do this, or do that,’” Scotty says. “He’ll talk to me about who’s coming, and how he’s trying to manage things so he can keep everyone. And that’s every team, having those discussions…”
He is more analytical than his father, a facet of where the game has gone over the years. This GM is less likely to be seen holding court with reporters than his father, who knows seemingly everyone in the game today.
We’ll never forget being recognized by Bowman as a young reporter walking through the Buffalo airport. Scotty didn’t know me by name, but he knew which team I covered, and had a few questions about that team.
We didn’t know it then, so star struck was I that the great Scotty Bowman had come over to talk. Why? He was simply getting a little more information about a team, about players, than he had when he woke up that morning.
“The one thing I learned from my dad is, what separated him from everybody else was his ability to evolve, and to never feel like he had all the answers,” Stan said. “In the process of doing that, he ended up getting all the answers.
“He never thought he was smarter than anyone. He was always trying to get better. It’s a simple concept, but what I’ve realized now is, there are a lot of people who don’t operate like that. They’re stubborn.
“He never was willing to dismiss something that might work. To help make him better than everybody else.”
He still calls his mentor “dad,” while the rest of the world knows him simply as “Scotty.”
Win two more, and they’ll be known together as Stanley Cup champions.
“I am very proud, very happy for him,” said Scotty, who sounds more proud of his son’s ability to have beaten cancer than to build a Stanley Cup winner.
“This is the ultimate … it’s why we’re involved in the sport,” concludes Stan. “To get to the final, to be able to share that with someone who introduced you to the game of hockey…
“It makes it that much more meaningful to be able to do this alongside him.”