Bowness ready to get Jets back on track
Plan B maybe, but new bench boss happy to be back
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Rick Bowness doesn’t mind playing second fiddle. In fact, he fully understands why the Winnipeg Jets were initially thinking bigger when it came to the search for a new bench boss.
“If I’m in (GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s) chair, I’m going after Trotzy too. I am. It’s that simple,” Bowness, 67, said Monday.
“Trotzy” would be Barry Trotz, the prime target for True North who turned them down last month, electing to take a year away from the game to focus on his family.
“Trotzy is the perfect guy for this, I get that. With his resumé, I would have done the same thing Chevy did,” Bowness continued. “I got a nice text from Trotzy a couple days ago. It didn’t work out and that’s fine. So do I feel bad about second choice? Absolutely not. I would have done the same thing. He would have been my first choice.”
Once that door closed, the search for a suitable Plan B began. And Bowness eventually emerged from a pool of approximately a dozen candidates.
“Rick’s experience, his knowledge, his character, what he has done in the game and what he is going to do for our organization is what makes it an exciting day for me,” Cheveldayoff said Monday at a press conference to introduce a guy who really needed no introduction around here.
Bowness finished his NHL playing career in 1981 with the Jets 1.0, got his first coaching assignment the following year with their AHL team in Quebec, then got promoted back to the big leagues with Winnipeg first as an assistant (1984-87) and briefly as interim head coach in 1989.
One of his career highlights was on “Tuxedo Night” in March 1981, when the Jets downed the visiting Montreal Canadiens 4-2 on the strength of a pair of third-period goals from Bowness. The nationally televised “Hockey Night In Canada” game was essentially their Stanley Cup that year, one of just nine overall victories.
“I didn’t score very many. One was an empty-netter. I was surprised to be on the ice in that scenario,” Bowness joked on Monday. Now he hopes plenty of new memories will be made in the city, not to mention a lot more wins.
Bowness has signed a two-year contract, with a club option for a third year. That doesn’t rule out the potential for Trotz, a native of Dauphin, to re-emerge as a candidate down the road. For now, the focus is on the present, and Cheveldayoff believes they got the best candidate presently available, even if it took a lot longer than planned.
“What impressed me with Rick, is talking to the different people about him and talking to maybe some different players is his unique ability to have been in the game for so long, but evolve and stay current,” said Cheveldayoff.
“Again, I think that’s a testament to his personality. He’s very easy, if you ever get a chance to sit one-on-one, he’s easy to talk to, very engaging and that’s what players are looking for. They’re looking to be heard, but yet they want to know that someone is in charge. Over that evolution process of his career, I think that’s probably been one of the most remarkable things, his ability to evolve and connect with today’s players.”
Bowness knows these current Jets well, having spent the past three years in the Central Division behind the bench with the Dallas Stars where he compiled a record of 89-62-25. He led the 2019-20 team to the Stanley Cup Final where they lost to Tampa Bay, missed the playoffs the following year, then fell in the first round this past spring by dropping Game 7 in overtime in Calgary. Bowness stepped down a few days later.
“There comes a point where, man, we pushed this team as hard as we can, as far as we can, and they need a new voice. So it came to a point where, did I go in and ask for an extension? No. Did they offer an extension, no? So I think both sides kind of agreed it’s time for a new voice,” he said of the move.
Bowness said he had three offers to join organizations as an assistant coach but turned them down.
“I wasn’t interested in going to a rebuild. I’ve done all that. If I was going to get back into coaching, two things were important. The first was, and my wife brought this up, was to work with good people. That’s the most important thing at this stage of my life and my career. I wasn’t going to go back to coaching for the sake of it, I didn’t need a job,” he said.
“And the management in here with Mark (Chipman) and the ownership, these are great people with a great reputation around the league. The other thing I wanted to do was work with a good team, and that hasn’t changed. This team has a great young goalie in Connor (Hellebuyck), a good defence, we’ve got some great offensive forwards. Are there some things we’re going to have to change? Absolutely. That’s the challenge for me, that’s what excited me. To work with good people, work with a good team in a great market like Winnipeg.”
Former Jets forward turned Manitoba Moose head coach Scott Arniel, who has most recently been an assistant coach in Washington, will join Bowness as an associate coach. Two other assistants still have to be hired, with only goalie coach Wade Flaherty retained from last year’s staff. Interim coach Dave Lowry (who took over mid-season from Paul Maurice), along with associate coach Jamie Kompon and assistant coach Charlie Huddy will not return.
“I’ve known Scotty, I’ve played with Scotty quite a few years ago. Coached him, coached him here and coached him in Boston. He and I have kept a good rapport over the years,” said Bowness. “We’ve already touched base with a few more people. There are a lot of good coaches out there looking for work. It goes to getting the right people and working with good people. We’ll put the right people in place here.”
Now the focus turns to the roster, with the NHL entry draft happening Thursday and Friday in Montreal, and free agency beginning next Wednesday. Then it’s planning for training camp in September and the start of the 82-game regular-season on Oct. 11. The schedule is expected to be released later this week.
“Listen, it’s great to come back, but the main reasons we’re here is because what I said earlier – the good people and the good team. Does it help that we have a connection to the city and the organization? Absolutely. Our daughter was born here in Winnipeg. She’s our token Westerner. The rest of us are Maritimers. Having that relationship with the city before, and guys like Dale (Hawerchuk). I’ve played golf with his son, Eric, a couple of months ago in Phoenix,” said Bowness.
“I remember the first White Out we had at the arena. Those things are great memories here. We’ve got memories from Winnipeg. But again, we’re here because we love the people that we’re going to work for, we love the team, we love the city and it’s nice to have those connections to the past.”
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Monday, July 4, 2022 7:47 PM CDT: updates story to final version.