Scotty Bowman has a pretty good understanding of what the Vegas Golden Knights are feeling right now, as a berth in the Conference Final awaits the expansion darlings.
After all, the Golden Knights might be the first team in half a century to win multiple playoff series in their inaugural season, but the team that did it 50 years before them? The 1967-68 St. Louis Blues, with Bowman behind the bench.
It was the now-revered hockey legend’s first foray into coaching in the big leagues, before he went on to rack up nine Stanley Cups during stints with the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Detroit Red Wings. The Blues came into the league amid an expansion that saw the NHL grow from six teams to 12, competing in a division comprised only of the six new clubs while the Original Six faced off in the other.
Having led that debut Blues squad to a Stanley Cup Final appearance — they lost to Montreal, and fell short in the final in each of the next two seasons as well — Bowman has a pretty good sense of what it takes to turn a previously nonexistent team into a winner.
Speaking to NHL.com’s Nicholas Cotsonika about that late-60s team and the present day Golden Knights, Bowman said he sees a lot of similarities in the two quick starters.
“St. Louis in our first year was very similar,” Bowman told Cotsonika. “We had a big crowd that came through at the end. We weren’t drawing all the time, but [the fans came in] the second half. It was tough to play for the visiting team, and this is about the same as Vegas.”
Much has been made about the context in which the Golden Knights entered the NHL. A single-team expansion scenario let them reap the rewards of the expansion draft without competition, while the rules of that draft were far more favourable than those offered to any previous first-year club.
But, according to Bowman, that doesn’t make their quick ascent any less impressive.
“It was a good formula, but [the Golden Knights] had to take advantage of it,” Bowman told Cotsonika. “You still have to mold a team. You have to put the lines together. They play a team game. If you watch them play, they’re a good passing club, which is practice and coaching. The transition from forward and defence with the puck is top-notch. I think they got a team.”
Bowman highlighted the exceptional work done by Jack Adams Award nominee Gerard Gallant, along with the acquisitions of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and some clutch trades with Minnesota and Florida, as the key foundational factors upon which the team has thrived.
“They’ve got pieces that have all just jelled together,” the Hall of Famer said. “To me, they’re not flukes.”