NHL

KELLEY: Bowman's genius on display

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 

DENVER

Good day, class. It's long been stated (and written) that Detroit Red Wings coach Scott Bowman is: A) the winningest coach in National Hockey League history.
B) the winningest coach in the playoffs in NHL history.
C) a genius. Points A and B are simple enough to prove. Just go to the NHL guide and record book and find Bowman's name atop both lists. Every game he wins just adds to the records that quite likely will never be broken. Point C is somewhat subjective, but I, and a great many in hockey, believe it to be true. In my mind a genius is someone who is consumed by his vocation. A brilliant individual, not just with an ability or "flair" for what he does best, but a person who is consumed by what he does. A genius is someone who doesn't necessary lead, but is someone who is so consumed by his unusual mental ability that he is compelled to follow it wherever it might take him. Bear with me a moment, gentle reader, and the following single but lengthy paragraph will help prove my point. It will take a little work on your part, but then understanding genius is never a simple task. Question: Scotty, can you describe the mindset of overtime as a coach? You have been through so many overtimes. Is it tough to watch? Answer: "The overtime, it used to be that teams would go for it, but I don't think there is a format for it. I guess you're concerned mostly about unnecessary faceoffs in your own end, like you're going to get some icings where you're in difficulty. You have to get it down the ice, but a pass up the middle and the guy deflects it to the middle and he doesn't get it. I've seen some games decided on a faceoff. There isn't much you can do on a faceoff. The puck is dropped, if the other team gets it back, your only hope is you get some legs in front of the net. I always try to stress faceoffs are okay, but make sure they're deserved. Don't make a sloppy play to create a faceoff play. I would, say, you know, in overtime you don't get the timeouts from the TV. It's different now than it used to be because the timeouts last as long as two minutes. They're 90 seconds. By the time they get back to play, you get four of them a period and in the overtime you don't get that, so, obviously, your guy — I guess you try to put fresh guys on at some crucial time. Last night was our longest one. The other ones were real quick. Vancouver was nine or 10 minutes. The other one the other night was only two, two and a half minutes, so I don't think there is any special thing about sitting back or you're one shot away, you can't do that. Then, four-on-four, it opened up a little bit last night. I was concerned because they have guys that are like (Joe) Sakic, (Peter) Forsberg, although they had — I think Sakic went off, because it was 44 seconds after the offsetting penalties to (Darren) McCarty and (Adam) Foote and Sakic went off, but Drury and Forsberg are just a good tandem as well. In four-on four I try to put guys that I feel I would put out (as) if it's a penalty-killing situation, especially in overtime. We had put out (Steve) Yzerman and (Brett) Hull. We were going to follow it up with (Sergei) Fedorov, (Brendan) Shanahan, but Yzerman was actually on longer — well, he was on 44 seconds. That's when we scored. Then I try to put our guys that I would use to kill a penalty, and depending on the situation, (Kris) Draper to (Kirk) Maltby, it's a little different. They're probably not as apt to score as readily as the other guys, but maybe in overtime they might be a little fresher because they might not have as many minutes played, stuff like that. Four-on-four opens it up. You've got to know when it's four-on-four. It puts a lot of pressure (on), especially with Colorado. Their defensemen move up pretty good. (Rob) Blake could be a dangerous guy or (Greg) DeVries — actually DeVries is moving up as much as any of them. He was in alone in the third there, and Dominik (Hasek) made a good play to force him wide." Whew! Look, I told you it was long, but it is also so Scott Bowman. One simple question and an answer that most in the media tend to smirk at. Writers roll their eyes when Bowman embarks on one of these stream-of-consciousness rants. Cameramen start looking for other things to shoot. Tape recorders run full and the dictation people the NHL hires to transcribe the podium statements start to make faces one would associate with the pain of childbirth. For the rest of us, however, it's a glimpse how the most industrious mind in hockey really works. It works hard, it never rests, it processes information at the speed of a computer and it devises theories and then solutions seemingly all at the same time. It's a mind that's consumed by hockey, consumed by the details of hockey and it's in that state seemingly every minute of every day, in season or out, at the rink, or, we assume anyway, anyplace else. I would imagine it's the way Alfred Hitchcock's mind worked. The master film director was both organized to the point of obsession and creative to the point of unparalleled excellence. He, too, was considered a genius. Einstein had a thought process that worked like that. So did Edison, Van Gogh, John Nash. "Scotty's mind works a little differently," says assistant coach Barry Smith, who has been with Bowman through stops in Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Detroit. "He sees things differently than we do and he has a mind for detail. He sees little things that others don't and he keeps all of that in his head. "He's also very energized," Smith added. "After a game we'll all look at tape, but he'll often watch the whole game, start to finish and when we come back to the rink again, he'll have all kinds of ideas and he'll have it in his mind what he wants to do." The past few days are a case in point. After the Red Wings lost Game 2 in overtime Monday in Detroit, Bowman's mind immediately went to work. In the postgame press conference he said he felt he would have to make "adjustments" for Game 3. Smith said Bowman had thought them through almost immediately after the game ended. He brought them to the rest of the coaching staff and the players when the team reconvened at practice the next morning and they went to work. The result: Detroit won Wednesday 2-1 in overtime. They easy synopsis was that Hasek outdueled Colorado goaltender Patrick Roy, but it was so much more than that. First, Bowman put the youngish Jason Williams at center and moved center Steve Yzerman to the wing with Brendan Shanahan. That took some of the pressure off Yzerman, who's battling with a gimpy knee and a bruised shoulder. It relieved him of some of the more intense defensive responsibilities that the centers have in the Detroit scheme. And it reduced his ice time, which Bowman thought was necessary so that Yzerman would be more effective when he did get out on the ice. After that he moved winger Luc Robitaille, who had been struggling mightily in this series, onto a line with Fedorov and the relentless Tomas Holmstrom. That's no small move because Fedorov is the one center who is going extremely well for Detroit and playing with him is likely to increase one's ice time and even his chances for scoring. That's what happened when Robitaille was credited with the game-tying goal in the third period. He didn't make much of a play, but he was at the net and Fedorov got the puck there. And besides, it's the results that count, not how they come about. He also moved some players around on the third and fourth lines and got them out more. The four-line effort increased the speed and flow of the game and the Wings outshot the Avs by a stunning 45-22 margin. Bowman noted afterward that he thought the four-line effort would be a factor, because though the Avs are used to playing at the high altitude in Denver, his team need the extra-short shifts to remain effective at the game's amazingly high tempo. Bowman also made the move to insert little-used defenseman Fredrik Olausson into the lineup, thereby giving him more offensive firepower from the backline, something he felt was missing in the Game 2 loss at Detroit. While the Avs mostly used three lines, by rotating four, Bowman occasionally got the matchups he wanted, even though he didn't have the last line change. He even got the occasional mismatch that he wanted, including in the overtime when he got Yzerman and Shanahan out against the Avs defensive pair of Rob Blake and Martin Skoula. Normally Blake plays with Darius Kasparaitis, but changes are harder in overtime because, as Bowman pointed out, there are no TV timeouts. That mismatch played a role in the game-winning goal when Skoula unintentionally provided a screen that obscured Roy from moving on Olausson's shot. Now a lot of coaches would never go so far to make so many moves for what might amount in just a minor one-on-one advantage, but Bowman does it all the time. He has an uncanny mind for the flow of the game, the players that are on the ice and the pairings on the opposition's forward lines and defensive combinations. Bowman also has a knack for getting the edge on faceoffs and even on-the-fly line changes. He recently made a point of noting that the complexion of the playoffs have changed in the third round as opposed to the first two rounds. He pointed out that the NHL has a selection process with the referees and they were "down" to the top nine and that those are mostly veteran referees. The obvious deduction was that the veteran referees call a different kind of game than the less experienced ones and that the flow of the games change because of it. It's all part of the Bowman approach to hockey, and as you saw in the lengthy paragraph above, there's not another one like it. It's a part of the reason he's won more games, more playoff games, and, if the Wings go on to win this series and the next, more Stanley Cups than any coach in the history of the sport. Great players help, but a great mind behind the bench is a heck of an asset as well. Bowman's mind is unlike any other in the game. Truly a genius at work.
Tagged: Red Wings, Penguins, Avalanche, Jason Williams, Brendan Shanahan, Tomas Holmstrom, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman, Rob Blake, Martin Skoula

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