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  SCOTTY BOWMAN ON PULLING PRANKS, THE RED WINGS' LOSS AND THE NHL CHAMPIONSHIPS.  
   
   
 

If you know hockey, you know Scotty Bowman. He's been the winningest NHL coach in both regular season (1,244) and playoffs (223) for more than 30 seasons. He lead three different franchisees to a record nine Stanley Cups.

That would be Montreal in 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979, followed by Pittsburgh in 1992 and then Detroit in 1997, 1998 and, ah yes, last year -- 2002.

So you know of his Hall of Fame success, but there's a lot you don't know about Scotty Bowman. Like his wicked sense of humor. He had me pretend I was a police officer and tell his buddy that I was towing his car. He plays practical jokes on any and every unsuspecting friend. He may be the greatest hockey coach alive -- but he's an average guy. Okay, so most average guys don't have championship rings for just about every finger on their hand, but still. Yep, this is a man who knows his opponent's team better than their own coach, but he also leaves whichever Stanley Cup ring he's wearing next to the sink where he brushes his teeth and will make a beeline for the rice pudding at your next gathering.

He's also my Daddy's best -- and only -- friend.

As we enter Game Two of the 2003 Stanley Cup finals, I thought I'd catch up with Coach Bowman and ask him his opinion on the Ducks- Devils series and a bit about his career.

TW: You've been to the finals about a dozen times -- hardest thing about playing in a championship series?

SB: The distractions. When there's a final series, there's a lot more media attention. A lot of your time is spent doing that. You're the focal point of the media and you have to be careful to budget your time properly. Or before you know it, you're spending more time thinking about the games then actually playing them.

TW: Any idea why the Detroit Red Wings -- the favorite -- went out in the first round? Was the media attention a factor?

SB: No, not in the first round. No. I think it was quite a few things. The other team had a good ending to their season. The Red Wings played right up to the last minute. That Friday and Sunday of the first round. I think the 5 days to get ready for the series seem to help Anaheim. They got off to a good start winning that first game in overtime. That was a big factor. The Red Wings never recovered.

TW: Why do you think Anaheim, off all teams, has been so successful?

SB: They were better than people thought they there. They actually, the second half of the season, they only won one fewer game that the Red Wings. I mean, the Red Wings had a pretty good second half -- they won 27 games out of 41 -- but the Ducks won 26, just one game less. So I think they were very much underrated and they were able to capitalize on that.

TW: Ray Bourque, Dominik Hasek, Luc Robitaille and Fredrik Olausson all won their first career cups recently. You think that pushes guys like Adam Oates and Steve Thomas a bit more?

SB: It helps to have some players on a team that have been in the league and haven't been able to win a cup. Not too many, but you need some. It's an advantage to have the experience, but it's even better to have guys who have been on winning teams. So I don't know that it's made a big difference.

TW: Goaltending. Who's better? Jersey's Martin Brodeur or Anaheim's Jean-Sebastien Giguere?

SB: Brodeur has had a lot more experience in this kind of a series, won two Stanley cups and has been in a finals another time. So it's a little different for him. It's the first time Giguere is going to play against a goalie that's got a big reputation and has been able to win. It's a bit of a different spin for him.

TW: Especially that the press has been comparing him to a young Brodeur? He's playing against the kind of player they expect him to become?

SB: Yeah, they're both from the province of Quebec, but you can't discount Brodeur's experience

TW: Who do you expect to come out on top in this final?

SB: I think it's been tough for Anaheim having such a lay off. They've had 12 days until they could get back playing again. They've lost a little. The crucial game will be game two. And that's an advantage for the Devils.

TW: You get inside your player's heads. I've heard the one where you gave the bellman at the hotel $10 and a hockey stick. He stood in the lobby, and when the players rolled in at one, two in the morning, you had the guys sign the stick. Every guy who cut curfew, his name was on that stick in his own handwriting. Knowing you had them -- you walked into practice the next day and held it out. What else did you do?

SB: When I was in my first job in St. Louis, we had two terrific years and the third year we were slumping. They seem to lose some of their focus for what they had to do. I decided to schedule practice around early morning traffic and also the evening traffic. So for a week, we practiced in the morning where they had to get into rush hour traffic. Just like the rest of the people who work for a living. And I made sure they had the same thing going home. It gave them the realization how fortunate they were to have job where they didn't have to buck the traffic in the morning and again on the way home. I did it to get their attention. It worked.

TW: You have a reputation has a practical joker. Any big ones you can share?

SB: I am pretty good at changing my voice on the phone. It's easiest do to it that way. Just don't tell them who you are until they've gotten all riddled up and already made the proper phone calls. They'll figure it out then.

TW: What is the most misunderstood thing about you and your coaching philosophy?

SB: I think some of the media wants to have a perfect coach that will answer all the questions well and treat all the players the same -- those kind of people can't exist.

TW: What is the most important thing you learned during your coaching career?

SB: Not to get too excited when things are going your way and also not to get too despondent when faced with a little adversity. Try to be on a more level plane, don't always think everything is going to be perfect and rosy -- at the same time when you're in a streak of bad luck, don't think that everything will always be that way too.

 

*BT*

Scotty Bowman is retired and lives in Buffalo, NY with his family.

Tracy Weiss watches hockey for the blood. She lives in New York City.

Game Two of the New Jersey Devils and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks can be seen tonight at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN, which is channels 28, 35, 33, 39 or 27 in New York City, depending on your cable provider.