The high standards to which William Scott Bowman held himself and his players contributed to a landmark coaching career. A master of motivation and mind games, he knew how to get the most out of every player he handled. During his 27 years as a coach, he never experienced a losing record in any full season in which he was behind the bench. His eight Stanley Cup coaching wins are the most in history, putting him one ahead of the legendary Toe Blake.
A head injury ended Bowman's playing career while he was still a junior. He moved into coaching in the Canadiens' minor-league system and broke into the NHL with the expansion St. Louis Blues in 1967-68, leading that team to the Stanley Cup finals in each of its first three terms.
In 1971 the Montreal Canadiens hired Bowman to replace Al MacNeil, who had coached the team to a Stanley Cup just the year before but had lost the respect of players such as Henri Richard. The Canadiens won at least 45 games in each of Bowman's eight seasons at the helm, and they won the Stanley Cup five times. Those achievements speak volumes about Bowman's ability to prevent such an overpowering squad from growing complacent.
After the Habs' 1979 Cup championship - their fourth in a row - Bowman announced that he was stepping down from one of the most prestigious yet demanding jobs in hockey. A new challenge awaited him in Buffalo, where he was hired as the Sabres' coach and general manager prior to the 1979-80 season. The Sabres were a good team that failed to duplicate their playoff success of 1975, when they reached the finals only to lose to Philadelphia. Although he engineered a number of shrewd draft-day deals, Bowman was never able to fill the Buffalo roster with the same numbers of extraordinary role players he had had at his disposal in Montreal.
Bowman temporarily quit coaching in 1987 to work as an analyst on the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada telecasts. His next stop was Pittsburgh, where he was hired as the Penguins' director of player development. During the summer of 1991, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Builder. He returned to bench duty with the Penguins that autumn after Bob Johnson, a popular figure who had led the team to its first-ever Stanley Cup victory in 1991, succumbed to cancer during the off-season. Bowman molded the multi-talented club into a well-rounded squad that could control play at both ends of the ice. Their repeat championship in 1992 was attributable in no small measure to Bowman's leadership.
In 1992-93, Bowman's Penguins led the league with 56 wins and 119 points - both franchise highs - but were upset by the New York Islanders in the Patrick Division finals. Bowman moved on to Detroit, where he coached the Red Wings to 46 wins and 100 points. A stunning first-round defeat at the hands of the San Jose Sharks proved to be a short-term setback, as the Wings reached the Stanley Cup finals in 1995 - their first appearance in 29 years. Although they were swept by the New Jersey Devils, Detroit appeared to be headed for long-term success.
In 1995-96, the Red Wings won an NHL-record 62 games - eclipsing the previous standard of 60, which Bowman had set with Montreal in 1976-77 - but they fell short against the eventual Cup winners, the Colorado Avalanche, in the Western Conference finals. On December 5, 1995, Bowman made history when he coached in his 1,607th game - another NHL record.
Bowman earned a permanent place in the hearts of Red Wings supporters in 1997 by leading the team to its first Stanley Cup win in 42 years. The following year his experience at keeping a dominant team hungry came in handy as he guided Detroit to a repeat championship. Along the way he reached another individual milestone on February 8, 1997, when the Wings beat Pittsburgh to give Bowman his 1,000th career regular-season victory. In 1999 the Wings fell short of a "threepeat" when they were upset by Colorado in the Western Conference semifinals, but Bowman remained behind the bench to lead Detroit into the new millennium.
In February 2002, Bowman privately decided that he would retire at season's end. His hockey fairytale would indeed finish with a storybook ending. Scotty's Red Wings won the Cup in dominating fashion, defeating the Carolina Hurricanes in five games. One of the poignant scenes that played itself out on the ice following the presentation of the Stanley Cup was seeing Scotty out on the ice surface wearing skates and letting his players know that he had retired.
With nothing left to prove, Bowman retired from active NHL management with an unprecedented hockey resume. He is the winningest coach in NHL history with 1,244 victories and an astounding .654 winning percentage. His nine Stanley Cup bench wins ranks first all-time.
Scotty Bowman was selected as an Honoured Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991, but leaves a legacy that will remain as long as the game of hockey is played.