Scotty Bowman Takes The Heat, Delivers Cup Championships -- Fans Love To Hate Detroit Coach

DETROIT - Minutes after winning his seventh Stanley Cup, Scotty Bowman is in skates and twirling around Joe Louis Arena. He is a kid again, lost in the joy of the moment.

The Detroit Red Wings' fans go crazy. Bowman is the man they love to hate. What do they do now?

There is only one solution: accept Bowman for who he is, but also for who he is not. Many in the NHL have had trouble doing that. It is just one of the burdens for Bowman, one of the best hockey coaches of all time.

He's known for his rigid discipline, explosive temper and sometimes sneaky tactics. He used to ask players for matches, even though he doesn't smoke. By reading the matchbook covers, he could see where the team was hanging out after hours.

"One thing Scotty does and does well, is he keeps you on your toes," says Paul Coffey, the popular defenseman Bowman traded in the deal that brought Brendan Shanahan to Detroit.

Once, when Bowman thought his players were becoming too complacent, he scheduled practice around rush-hour traffic, "just to remind them what life is like for regular people."

Still, for a man seemingly so consumed with power and control, the 64-year-old Bowman maintains the fascination of a kid. He loves model trains, trading cards and classic cars. He wears Snoopy ties for good luck. If he eats somewhere and wins, it's a good bet he'll go there again.

"Scotty's a role model for most of the coaches in the league because of the way he approaches the job," Boston Bruins coach Pat Burns says. "He's nobody's buddy at the rink, even though he's a great guy to be around when he's at home. When he's coaching, he's all about hockey, and all about business. He doesn't need to be your friend."

Bowman's father toiled as a blacksmith for 31 years, but the coach learned much of his toughness from his mother while growing up in Montreal.

Tough? She would play cards with her friends. If she wasn't winning, she'd throw the cards in the fireplace.

Bowman appeared on his way to a promising career as a hockey player. But that ended when a defender clubbed him over the head with his stick during a junior game. The metal plate it took to repair the damage is still in Bowman's skull.

That might have been the end of hockey for Bowman. He sold paint for a while, memorizing the codes for every color on the shelf. Then a coaching job opened up. Bowman has stopped memorizing paint codes, but his mind still works in wondrous ways.

"He is the master of masters," Burns says. "I remember the first time I coached against him. I think he was in Pittsburgh, and I spent half the game staring at him on the other bench."

Since replacing St. Louis general manager Lynn Patrick as coach 16 games into the 1967-68 season, Bowman has coached seven Cup champions. Only the legendary Toe Blake has more - eight, all with Montreal.

"I don't sit in the medical room and trade jokes with players," Bowman says. "I'm trying to get a team to believe in one another. That's what matters. ... They can not like the coach or the general manager, but if they like one another, they've got a chance."

Bowman is the only coach with over 1,000 regular-season wins (1,013 when the 1997-98 season began Wednesday). With the Cup triumph in June, he became the first to win the championship with three different teams. He won five Cups with Montreal, including four straight (1976-79) and one with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992.

Bowman coached in Buffalo from 1979-87 and takes heat for still living there, yet he seldom talks about the handicapped son he doesn't want to uproot. He does not want to seem sentimental. He is convinced it gives him an edge.

"He's a very competitive man," says Barry Smith, an assistant coach who has been with Bowman at Buffalo and Pittsburgh before Detroit. "But I think he's got a better grip on it. The trigger's a little slower, blowing up or jumping on a particular player."

But those players who don't do it Bowman's way, don't stay around long. During his tenure, he has traded away some of the Red Wings' most popular players: Shawn Burr, Dino Ciccarelli and Coffey among them.

"Trying to understand Scotty is like trying to explain abstract painting," Burr says.

Ken Dryden, Bowman's goalie during those brilliant Montreal championship years, wrote:

"He is abrupt, straightforward, without flair or charm. He seems cold and abrasive, sometimes obnoxious, controversial but never colorful. He is not Vince Lombardi, tough and gruff, with a heart of gold. ... He is complex, confusing, misunderstood, unclear in every way but one. He is a brilliant coach, the best of his time."

Some players have grown tied of Bowman. Yet almost all of them feel they become better players by putting up with him.

Goalie Chris Osgood is a prime example. He was the No. 1 goalie last season, winning 23 games and compiling a 2.30 goals against average in the regular season. Yet when the playoffs began, veteran Mike Vernon started every game. If it bothered Osgood, he was too wise to let on.

"We're always on edge here," Osgood says. "I've seen Scotty a lot. We get along well. The thing you have to know, and I know it, is that he wants me to play the best I can and he'll do whatever it takes to do that."

If Bowman hasn't changed much over the years, the game certainly has. He has seen the arrival of Europeans and then a huge influx of Russians. Bowman has taken advantage of it, too. He is the first coach in the NHL to put together a five-man Russian unit, with the Red Wings.

"A lot of things are the same," Bowman says. "Game preparation, practices, how you play your players. Maybe now if you're with a good team you play more players. There have been some changes, but I don't think they're big changes."

Bowman has adapted when he's had to. But he remains stringent and ornery. He still plays mind games. He still knows how to keep a team on edge. He still tries to browbeat referees, players, coaches and the media.

"All Scotty has done is come in and make people believe in what they're doing," Los Angeles coach Larry Robinson says. "Scotty has a way of getting the most out of people by just being Scotty."