Over the course of the seven seasons Rick Bowness spent with the Canucks, that organization realized a certain level of success. Hired initially as an assistant coach, he was then promoted to associate coach as he oversaw the defense and penalty kill unit of that team.
Six times they qualified for postseason play, each time as Northwest Division champs, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. But last May he, head coach Alain Vigneault and assistant Newell Brown were swept out of Vancouver with the same broom the San Jose Sharks used in their 4-0 first round playoff win over them.
However, Bowness could not be any happier about where he was ultimately swept to: Tampa, Florida. For him, he couldn’t have planned it any better.
“I had other options last summer but this was my first choice”, he told me this past weekend while preparing for the opening of training camp this week. “This is a great opportunity and I’m very honored and excited to be working with the Tampa Bay Lightning. And I’m looking forward to working with the players and getting this thing going.”
Bowness was the 26th overall draft pick by the Atlanta Flames in 1975. His NHL playing career took him to not only Atlanta but also to Detroit, St. Louis and Winnipeg. After his playing career he has coached in a number of NHL organizations including head coaching positions with the Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, Phoenix Coyotes as well as the original Winnipeg Jets. He’s also spent several seasons coaching at the AHL level. So he has his fair share of experience in professional hockey, something he plans on sharing in Tampa.
When asked to explain what it is about the Lightning that has him most excited at the prospects of coaching there, Bowness’ response started at in the general manager’s office and went from there. “I have a tremendous amount of respect and confidence in Steve Yzerman”, he said. “I think he’s got the ability to build a winner here.”
As for working alongside of head coach Jon Cooper, who will be entering into his first full season as the Bolts bench boss, “I’m very excited about that”, he said. “I’ve heard so many positive things about him, a very knowledgeable man, a lot of fun to be around…and he’s won everywhere he’s been. He’s a smart hockey man and I think he’s the right head coach for this team”.
However, it’s the players that he’s charged to work with that really has Bowness motivated. He was hired last June to perform much the same duties he did in Vancouver, assist with the blueline and PK unit…aspects of the game that Lightning fans know all-to-well were the Achilles heel of this squad last season. Regardless, he feels the nucleus is there for success. As he explains, it just needs proper focus, total team effort as well as some good old fashioned hard work and practice.
“You look at the defensive core, the top six players that they had here last year. There’s Sami Salo, who I’ve coached before in Vancouver. He’s a fantastic player and an even better person…Eric Brewer, who I’ve known for a long time, back to the AHL days. He’s an incredible player….and Victor Hedman, he’s about to take the next step to being the consistent, solid hockey player that everyone expects him to become.”
“I’m very excited to work with the young defensemen”, he continued. “You’ve got players like Mark Barberio, who skates very well. And there are several other young talents out there like Sustr and Gudas. That’s what I enjoy most about coaching, working with the young guys, to help them develop on and off the ice and I’m encourage to work with the promising talent within this organization.”
As excited as he is at the prospects of helping guide the defensive corps of players in Tampa, Bowness was also quick to stress the importance of full participation when it comes to defensive play. As much as everyone is ready to join in on the attack, so too must they pull their weight in their end of the ice. And this is where he plans to focus a great deal of his efforts as well.
“It’s not only on defense. Obviously we’ve got Jonathan Drouin, and Steven Stamkos is here. This organization can score goals and it’s going to be up to us to tighten things up defensively”, he insists. “In order to make the playoffs in the National Hockey League you have to play good team D. And the defense is only going to be as good as the help they’re going to get from the forwards, it’s not just the defenders back there its five guys to keep the puck out of our net just as it takes five guys to put the puck in the other team’s net”.
“So our defense is going to need a lot of help from our forwards, and our goaltending is going to need help from the defenders and forwards. So we’ve just got to work to get five guys working together at all times together, getting the puck out of our end defensively as much as we can and spend more time in the other team’s zone.”
“Again we are an offensive team, we can score goal”, Bowness then surmised. “If we play good team D then that will lead to more scoring opportunities.”
Finally, he is looking forward to being in the midst of the great fan base which supports this Lightning team… something Rick Bowness has already been impressed with. And if all goes to plan, then the rowdy and raucous environment inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum will be even more so this season.
“Two years ago we came here with the Canucks. Very early on in the game we were looking around at each other on the bench and commented, ‘what a fantastic atmosphere it is here’….when you’re in the arena it’s loud, and when your down on the ice level it’s even louder. The fans here create that great atmosphere and that all part of the fun of playing and coaching here.”
Only this time, as I suggested, you’ll now get to be on the positive end of that atmosphere.
“Yeah”, he chuckled. “That’s the plan.”