Grate Dictator: He Wins Cups, But Few Friends Scotty Bowman Is A Tyrant On The Bench. A Tyrant With Six Championship Rings.

Posted: May 30, 1997

DETROIT — ``You hated him for 364 days a year. And on the 365th day you collected your Stanley Cup rings.''

- Ex-Montreal Canadien Steve Shutt, who won five Cups under Bowman

Scotty Bowman stands atop the Detroit Red Wings bench like Il Duce on the balcony.

The little man's jaw is raised, his lips pursed, his head cocked at a belligerent angle. It is the hands-on-hips pose of authority, of motionless swagger, of a barely disguised disdain for all those below.

His Detroit Red Wings are minutes away from eliminating the Colorado Avalanche, the defending Stanley Cup champions. Earlier in the series, Bowman so infuriated his boyish counterpart, Marc Crawford, that the Avalanche coach attempted to assault him during a game.

Crawford was not the first infuriated by this smug native of Montreal. Scotty Bowman is a dictator, often a despised dictator. And he has earned the reputation.

Bowman has coached and won more games than anyone in NHL history. He went to the Stanley Cup finals in his first three seasons behind the bench. And when his Red Wings begin their series with the Flyers tomorrow night, it will be his 11th championship series in 25 seasons. He has won six, second only to the eight captured by his mentor, Toe Blake, the man who told Bowman to ``do your own thing.''

And should the Red Wings triumph in these finals, he would become the first coach in NHL history to win Cups with three teams.

Yet like Mike Keenan - another cold-eyed, aloof coach often compared to Bowman - his success has not been translated into popularity. Not that he would ever want it to be.

His players might not like him, but as Shutt and others have pointed out, they'd rather be champions than be coddled.

``Some people don't like Scotty,'' Detroit winger Brendan Shanahan said. ``So what? I just know he is an asset to have behind the bench going into a series like this. You know he's been there before.

``The man has been to so many Stanley Cup finals that you're not going to surprise him. And as a player, you trust him when he tells you to do something. Trust, I think, is the key to his relationship with players.''

Bowman expects much from his players, and though he generally communicates with them only through his assistants, they realize they are constantly being evaluated for any flaw.

``You can't show any weaknesses out there,'' Joey Kocur said. ``He's always checking your character.''

And now, after guiding these Wings to their second Cup final in three seasons, there is talk that Bowman won't be back. Assistant general manager Ken Holland is due to be promoted to GM in July, assuming personnel responsibilities that had been the coach's.

Bowman, at 63, won't discuss the matter, but no one expects him to remain under those circumstances.

``Look at all the guy has done here,'' said a Red Wing who asked not to be identified. ``Why should he have to answer to anyone?''

When he was hired in Detroit, most observers expected Bowman to stay only for the two years of his contract. But he has been here four seasons now and has won at a remarkable rate, revving up interest in a city that has always loved hockey.

The Red Wings have gone 252-167-72 under Bowman and won two President's Trophies for accumulating the most regular-season points.

Last season, they won an NHL-record 62 games.

``How can anyone argue with the job he has done?'' Kocur said. ``Just look at his record here. He keeps us very calm on the bench. He gets the right lines out there, and the right matchups.''

He has been doing it that way for 30 years, ever since this man who never played professional hockey took over the St. Louis Blues from Lynn Patrick in 1967-68, the first season of expansion.

``I was supposed to get the job the next season, but Lynn got so busy with his GM duties that he asked me to start a little sooner,'' Bowman said.

The Blues were bigger and badder than their expansion rivals and, ironically, were the reason the Flyers eventually developed a fondness for physical players. Because the playoff format then mandated that an expansion team meet one of the Original Six in the finals, Bowman took the Blues to three straight.

``We got beat each time but we played well,'' he said. ``To tell you the truth, that was so long ago I can barely recall it now.''

After four seasons there, he went to Montreal, where in eight years he won five Cups with a team many believe to be the greatest in NHL history.

``Of course, he has won a lot of Cups,'' said Colorado goalie Patrick Roy, no Bowman fan, during the conference-championship series, ``but look at the great teams he has had.''

He didn't have nearly as much success in seven seasons in Buffalo. When he was fired there in '87, Bowman became a commentator on Hockey Night in Canada. In 1991, he was hired in Pittsburgh, and the Penguins won their first Cup - Bowman's sixth - under him in 1992.

Bowman also has coached more playoff games - 269 - than anyone in history, and critics often accuse him of playing psychological games during the postseason. He likes to complain, they say, about some extraneous thing - ice surface, a player's equipment - knowing he is going to irritate the opponent.

If so, he refused to be drawn into that game when Flyers coach Terry Murray fired a preemptive strike, calling Detroit defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov one of the NHL's dirtiest players.

Asked how he responded, Bowman said:

``I don't. We got into all that stuff in the last series. Both teams have tendencies, and I'm sure they'll address things to the people that run the series. And we'll get our opportunity to do the same.''

And then he couldn't resist a subtle jab at his novice counterpart.

``That's the way it should be done,'' he said, ``and that's the way we'll do it.''

Like it or not.