In these Stan­ley Cup fi­nals, one coach can’t lose

Gwozdecky knows Cooper, Bow­ness well; is torn re­gard­ing out­come

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - SPORTS - GARY SANTANIELL­O

This year’s Stan­ley Cup fi­nals se­ries fea­tures two head coaches who are very fa­mil­iar with each other: The Dal­las Stars’ in­terim coach, Rick Bow­ness, was an as­sis­tant for the Light­ning’s coach, Jon Cooper, for five years at Tampa Bay. Ge­orge Gwozdecky has shared a bench with both of them, hav­ing been an as­sis­tant coach for Cooper, and Bow­ness’s col­league, for two sea­sons start­ing in 2013.

Cooper, 53, had no Na­tional Hockey League ex­pe­ri­ence when he be­came the Light­ning’s head coach late in the 2012-13 sea­son. In the off-sea­son, Bow­ness and Gwozdecky were added to his staff, largely be­cause of the nearly 70 years of coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence they col­lec­tively had.

Bow­ness, 65, now holds the NHL record for most games coached (2,473 en­ter­ing the fi­nals).

Gwozdecky, 67, had been a col­lege coach for 32 years be­fore he joined the Light­ning, win­ning two NCAA ti­tles in 19 years at the Univer­sity of Den­ver.

Gwozdecky has now been the head coach at Valor Chris­tian High School in High­lands Ranch, Colo., for the past five years. The school had won just five games in two years when Gwozdecky took over. Last sea­son, Valor won the state prep ti­tle in the fall and its first state cham­pi­onship in March.

“In the two years I was there, Rick was a huge, huge as­sist to Jon in fig­ur­ing out how this whole thing worked,” Gwozdecky said, re­fer­ring to the myr­iad is­sues fac­ing a first-time coach in the NHL, like de­ter­min­ing the travel sched­ule.

Cooper had a lim­ited play­ing back­ground and had been coach­ing pro­fes­sion­ally only since 2010, and Gwozdecky had never worked in the NHL. “We didn’t have a clue,” Gwozdecky said. “Rick was the guy who had to say, ‘This is the way it goes, boys.’ ”

Cooper took an un­usual route to the NHL. He worked on Wall Street, then went to law school be­fore be­com­ing a pub­lic de­fender. “As a coach, his court­room is the locker-room and the press con­fer­ence room,” Gwozdecky said. “He’s not a guy who will an­swer ques­tions with the typ­i­cal clichés. They’re all well thought out.”

Bow­ness was named Dal­las’s in­terim coach Dec. 12 when the Stars fired Jim Mont­gomery for un­pro­fes­sional con­duct.

Start­ing with the orig­i­nal Win­nipeg Jets in the 1988-89 sea­son, Bow­ness has been an in­terim or head coach for six teams. Be­fore Dal­las, his last head coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence was with the Coy­otes in 2004.

As as­sis­tants to Cooper, he and Gwozdecky bonded over their re­spec­tive re­spon­si­bil­i­ties — for Bow­ness, the de­fence and penalty kill, and for Gwozdecky, the for­wards and power play — and their life­times in hockey. Gwozdecky said they of­ten walked to­gether to the rink from the team ho­tel.

“We’d go in the se­cu­rity door, and every­one in se­cu­rity knew Rick, and many of them knew him by name,” Gwozdecky said. “Every­one was al­ways glad to see him again. He’s a salt-of-the-earth guy.”

And he likes clas­sic rock. When he’d re­turn to his car af­ter a prac­tice or a road trip, Gwozdecky re­called, “as soon as the win­dows were down you could hear Led Zep­pelin crank­ing out of the car.”

Gwozdecky said he did not ex­pect Cooper and Bow­ness to sur­prise each other in this se­ries. “When you’ve been around each other as much as the two of them have, you know how the other guy thinks, how he ex­am­ines the game, what’s im­por­tant to him, what his strengths and weak­nesses are,” Gwozdecky said.

He added: “It’s go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing for me to watch how both teams play against each other.”

But who is he root­ing for? “I’m torn be­cause Rick and I, and our wives, be­came pretty darn close,” Gwozdecky said. “As a coach, he was put into some tough sit­u­a­tions but, no mat­ter where he went, he al­ways got the most out of his teams. I’d love to see Rick get his name on the Stan­ley Cup but, at the same time, be­cause of the Tampa play­ers I worked with, and ob­vi­ously the coach­ing staff, I’d like to see their names on the Cup, as well.”

“From a ra­tio­nal stand­point,” he con­tin­ued, “you as­sume the younger guy” — re­fer­ring to Cooper — “is go­ing to have more op­por­tu­ni­ties to win it. Rick’s been around for such a long time, and helped so many or­ga­ni­za­tions; for that rea­son I’d love for him to see his name on the Cup.”

Jon Cooper

Ge­orge Gwozdecky

Rick Bow­ness

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.