Bowness not shying away from challenge ahead as Jets look to stop tailspin

Winnipeg Jets head coach Rick Bowness, top, talks from the bench. (LM Otero/AP)

WINNIPEG – Regrets?

Rick Bowness confesses to having a few over the course of his career in his chosen profession, especially when it comes to some of his eruptions on the bench, either directed at his players or occasionally to the men in stripes.

It’s virtually impossible not to want to take a moment or two back when you’ve been around as long as Bowness has.

With his team in the midst of a lengthy tailspin and in danger of falling out of a playoff spot that recently felt like a certainty, Bowness was quick to dismiss a question about whether he might actually regret his decision to put off retirement to become the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets.

“Oh my God. Never,” Bowness told reporters on Thursday morning. “I love it. I still love it. That’s why I’m still here.”

For the record, the question delivered by veteran Canadian Press reporter Judy Owen had nothing to do with the fact Paul Maurice tendered his resignation in December of 2021, seemingly at wits end in his search for answers.

If you’ve been paying attention to the body language of Bowness on the bench during some of these challenging times for the 41-31-2 Jets of late or listened to the words spoken during his post-game press conferences, it’s natural to wonder if the veteran bench boss might prefer to be sitting at home watching games for enjoyment.

But that’s not how Bowness is wired – and it’s part of why his passion for the sport hasn’t waned after all of these years in it, first as a player and later in a variety of roles on a coaching staff.

When Bowness sees a challenge, he isn’t looking for an emergency exit or a trap door.

He’s ready to meet the task head on, even if it seems to the outside world that this is unlike anything he’s encountered before.

“You always have your challenges with your team. Every day you come in and it’s something new. It’s every day and you’ve got to come ready to meet the challenge, whatever that is,” said Bowness. “And deal with what you see. That’s every day as a coach, even when things are going good, something is going to come up that you’ve got to deal with. That never changes.

“Your challenge as a coach in this league, always expect the unexpected and just be prepared to deal with something every day. Somebody is sick, somebody is not feeling well, this guy is upset about something. Those things you deal with. The way the team is going, we constantly, we just stay as positive as we can. We reinforce, we challenge them on the things that we can do better on a consistent basis, they’re constantly challenged on that and they’re constantly pushed to keep moving forward.”

To that end, Bowness isn’t about to change who he is or what he stands for.

“You want your players to play with emotion and passion. Well, that’s all I’ve got, is emotion and passion, so sometimes it comes out,” said Bowness, asked about recent on the bench outbursts by Maurice and Derek Lalonde of the Detroit Red Wings. “I’m a lot quieter now than I used to be. Over the years, we’ve calmed down a little bit back there. Fortunately.”

Back to the original question about taking the Jets job, Bowness, who signed a multi-year deal during the offseason, knows exactly when it will be time to hang up his whistle.

“I tell Judy every day, the morning I wake up and I don’t want to go to the rink, then we know it’s time (to retire),” said Bowness. “I love this challenge right now. I love the challenge. I don’t want to be where we are, trust me. I would prefer to be back where we were. But I love the challenge that’s in front of us.”

To that end, Bowness took a page of the coach’s manual under the topic of motivational tools on Thursday before hitting the ice, asking several players to share some thoughts on their experiences during the 2018 run to the Western Conference final, something Bowness enjoyed watching from a distance but would like to recreate.

“I had the guys talk this morning about the year they went to the semis and the whole city was on fire. It was electric,” said Bowness. “That’s what we want to bring back to the city.”

Before that can happen, the Jets must first find a way to lock down a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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Once viewed as a legitimate candidate to challenge for top spot in both the Central Division and Western Conference standings, the Jets are suddenly scratching and clawing to hold off the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators in the chase for the second and final wild-card berth.

Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but the Jets are about to open a pivotal stretch, a five-game homestand that could ultimately define this season, beginning with Friday’s meeting with the Red Wings.

Bowness and his players know exactly what is at stake and make no mistake, this isn’t just about the present.

It’s intertwined with both the past and the future of a franchise that is at an inflection point.

How this stretch of games goes could determine who sticks around to either enjoy the spoils or to potentially clean up the mess of what could be an epic collapse.

There is little doubt the heat has been turned up for a group that entered the season viewed by most pundits as a bubble team.

So it was also natural for Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois to view that as more of a rallying point, rather than to lament the series of lost points that include a pair of losses to the San Jose Sharks this month – among other lowlights that include a 7-12-2 record over the past 21 games.

“If you told us in October that we’d be in the playoffs, (by) two points, we control our own destiny here, we would have taken it,” Dubois told reporters. “We’re not out, looking in. We’re in. Two points is two points.

“We control everything that’s going to happen to us to the end of the year. I think in times like this people start to hit the panic button. But in reality it’s the same sport. We know what we can do, and we know what we can achieve if we play the way we can.”

There’s the rub.

Dubois is bang-on in his assessment.

If the Jets play the way that they can over the final seven games of the regular season – which includes head-to-head meetings with both the Flames and Predators at home next week – things could easily take care of themselves.

The flip side is that the Jets haven’t been clicking on all cylinders for a matter of not just weeks, but multiple months now.

The clean-up crew is required on several aisles, though it’s more of a refinement needed than a complete overhaul.

That’s why the Jets’ on-ice commitment must match the words they’ve been offering as they work to remain positive during this challenging time.

“We all know we can give more and we expect more. So, that starts (Friday),” Jets centre Adam Lowry told reporters. “We’ve been in a slide and it’s been an extended slide, but our season is not over, we’re still in a position where we kind of control our own destiny and it’s an exciting opportunity for us. So, I think it’s about getting out of this funk we’re in and kind of taking care of business so that we can get into the playoffs and then anything can happen from there.

“I think the urgency is certainly important. We’ve kind of run out of the runway where we can take a game off or a few periods off. Every period is critical.”

Lowry was asked if he and his teammates understand what they need to do to get things turned around.

“Yeah, I think we’re on the same page. I think everyone’s kind of in charge of their own performance,” said Lowry. “My job is to worry about how I play and kind of what I’m trying to bring. That’s kind of what we’re all doing. I think we’re all pulling on the same rope and we all have the same goals. Obviously, we haven’t played up to the standards we expect and that’s a collective issue for our team. So, we’re all looking to put forth a little better effort, a little more consistency in our game and that’s all of us.

“I don’t think it’s an effort issue. Sometimes we’re just a little stubborn in how we play.”

If the Jets can’t get that stubbornness out of their game quickly, Bowness won’t be the only person being asked about regrets.

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