WINNIPEG -- This opportunity would have been appealing to Dave Lowry even if his son wasn’t on the team.
Joining the Winnipeg Jets as an assistant coach on Paul Maurice's staff became a reality on Monday morning, just over four years since Lowry had first spoken to the bench boss about the prospect of joining his staff.
When he joined reporters for a Zoom call, Lowry expressed his gratitude about returning to the NHL and made it clear he wouldn’t have even considered the job if his son Adam hadn’t provided his blessing.
“This came right out of the blue,” said Lowry. “Paul and I had talked, I think it was four years ago when the NHL Draft was in Buffalo and he had approached me and asked if I would have any interest. We mutually agreed at that point in time that this wasn’t the right fit. Adam wasn’t an established player in the NHL and he was still finding his way. We left it at that. Four years later, he’s a solid NHL player, he’s established himself in the NHL and that’s what allowed this opportunity to come to fruition.
“It should be an easy transition. I’m no different than any other coaches. When you get an opportunity to come in and be a part of a staff where you can continue to learn, that’s something that is really exciting and that drew me closer to this opportunity.”
Lowry hasn’t coached Adam since the lockout season of 2004-05 when he was in minor hockey, but he has been part of multiple situations where a Sutter brother was coaching his sibling.
“I haven’t been part of the father-son coaching scenario but I’ve been part of brother coaching the brother. And not just on one team,” said Lowry. “I was there in St. Louis, I was there in San Jose and in Calgary where brothers were being coached by their brothers and usually the tendency is that the one that’s coaching is a lot harder on the one playing than he is on the rest of the guys.”
Although Dave has proven to be a resource for Adam on his road to becoming an NHLer, the two learned about the importance of prioritizing the father-son relationship a long time ago.
Sure, there would be times when Adam or one of his siblings would ask for advice or feedback. But the focus was on the personal side and Dave wasn’t constantly telling his son what to do or suggesting how he should be playing.
“The biggest thing is that I’ve recognized a long time ago where Adam was. With the leadership and the coaching he was getting, he didn’t need to hear from me as a coach,” said Lowry. “When we would come in for games, we would talk about how he is doing, not how did he play or what happened here or what happened there. We had the typical father-son relationship.
“Obviously, with me being a coach, if there were times when he wasn’t happy with his game -- sometimes he or his brother would reach out and they do ask questions and they do ask, what did I see? The coaching he has received up to this point has been second to none and I’m excited to be on a bench and watch him continue to grow as a player.”
Lowry is a valued member of the Jets leadership core, he anchors the checking line and is a key part of the penalty-killing unit.
Those things were already well established before Dave joined the coaching staff.
But what about the business side?
Adam Lowry has one year left on his contract before potentially becoming an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, but that’s not even on the radar for Dave as he begins his new job.
“I don’t think me being on the bench, or his contract status… I don’t think I have anything to do with it. Adam’s got to go out and be the best player that he can be,” said Lowry. “Our expectation is you need him to be good to win, and that is a challenge that will be presented to him on a daily basis.
“I look at it that we’re both professionals. I’m a coach, he’s a player and that’s the way this works. I know that early on there might be some different looks he might give me and whatever, but this is something we’ve talked about and are both comfortable doing going forward. It’s something we’re going to enjoy.”
Lowry has watched the Jets plenty since Adam was chosen in the third round of the 2011 NHL Draft and made his big-league debut during the 2014-15 season.
That familiarity should also ease the transition to a new coaching staff.
“One thing that I like to do, when I do watch and when I did watch Winnipeg play, I like to sit back and enjoy the game,” said Lowry “But as a coach, you’re always watching what the tendencies are, what the systems are and you just try to pick up as much information as you can.”
There was a vacancy on the Jets staff when Todd Woodcroft accepted a job as the head coach of the University of Vermont Catamounts back in April.
Lowry didn’t want to get into what his responsibilities are going to be at this time, but he’s eager to contribute to the staff that also includes Jamie Kompon, Charlie Huddy, goalie coach Wade Flaherty and video coach Matt Prefontaine.
“I look at the job Paul has done, I’m here to complement and to help any way I can. And whatever I’m asked to do, I look forward to the challenge,” said Lowry. “As an assistant coach you’re always out working with the young guys and the healthy scratches and that. That’s something that I really enjoy and that’s something I look forward to doing.”
During the summer, Maurice discussed the prospect of some of the roles changing and there being some overlap in how Woodcroft’s responsibilities would be divided up.
One would expect Lowry to have a voice in trying to help the penalty kill improve and to share ideas about the power play as well.
“Dave brings a tremendous amount of experience to our coaching staff in a variety of different areas,” Maurice said in a press release. “First of all, his success working with young players in their development can't be denied as he had an excellent season last year in Brandon and has coached the country's top junior players. He has worked in all aspects of special teams during his time as an NHL assistant coach, and in fact was part of a Los Angeles Kings team that saw a dramatic improvement of 25 goals at 5-on-5 in his first year there. We're very excited to bring Dave on-board and join our staff.”
Lowry was most recently the head coach of the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, guiding the club to a record of 35-22-4-2, which was good for third place in the East Division at the time the season was paused.
The Wheat Kings had two players chosen in the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft, defenceman Braden Schneider (19th overall, New York Rangers) and centre Ridly Greig (28th overall, Ottawa Senators) and Lowry is known for his ability to foster the growth of prospects.
“He’s the first to the rink and one of the last to leave,” Wheat Kings general manager Darren Ritchie said in a telephone interview. “He has a great rapport with his players. He connects with his players and seeing how he gets his message to his players was something I always appreciated and enjoyed. He makes everybody feel a part of the team and that everybody has a role on the team. Guys love playing for the man. The advice he was giving them was making them better players and better people.
“Anybody who plays pro hockey for 19 years has high-end character and he’s just a great guy. You always enjoyed being around him. He’s very competitive. He loves pushing his players to get better and he pushes himself to get better. He made our whole staff better.”
Lowry was a hard-nosed left-winger in the NHL for 19 seasons, suiting up in 1,084 games with the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues, Florida Panthers, San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames, plus another 111 games during the Stanley Cup playoffs (reaching the final in 1996 and 2004).
Lowry’s first NHL head coach was former Jets 1.0 bench boss Tom Watt and he’s seen a wide array of different styles over the years.
The 55-year-old has spent parts of three decades in the NHL as a player and a coach, including five seasons as an assistant under Brent Sutter with the Calgary Flames (three) and both John Stevens and Willie Desjardins with the Los Angeles Kings (two).
He also spent a decade in the WHL, including seven seasons as a head coach with the Victoria Royals (five), Calgary Hitmen (one) and Wheat Kings (one).
Adapting with the game has been a critical element to enjoying longevity.
“The biggest thing is it’s all about building relationships and connecting with players,” said Lowry. “For me the big thing is to be there when they need you and to really learn and identify how and what makes each player tick and how do they learn. With an established coaching staff, I’ll be able to pick their brain to be able to figure out how to work and how to teach these individual players.”
Leaving the Wheat Kings after one season brought some bittersweet feelings.
“I know there’s unfinished business,” said Lowry, “I really like the way the team has grown and how this team together and really understood what took to be a competitive group. I really like the lessons that we learned. I know this team is in a better place today and I know moving forward this team has an opportunity to win. I’ll sit back and I’ll enjoy watching the success.”