This all starts two weeks ago, during Hall of Fame weekend. The legendary Scotty Bowman is on hand since, at one time or another, he has coached three of the four inductees. Bowman is asked how many Hall of Famers he coached in his career, so he starts with the St. Louis Blues, who had Doug Harvey and Dickie Moore at the end of their careers, along with a goaltending tandem of Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante.
“They put up big numbers,” Bowman says. “They had 13 shutouts and only 157 goals against in 76 games. We had 22 one-goal games that year.”
Then you go and look up the 1968-69 season and, lo and behold, he’s right. The Blues did have 13 shutouts that year and they gave up 157 goals. Had only 20 one-goal games, but we’ll overlook that since it was almost 50 years ago and Bowman turned 82 a couple of months ago.
“Here’s what happened, and this is a true story,” Bowman says. “After I was injured and I couldn’t play junior anymore, I took a job and I was coaching a youth team and Montreal was sending me to school. I only went at night because I took a job with Sherwin-Williams for two years. I was going to be a salesman. And I had to remember codes. There were seven or eight numbered codes. The same paint was coming out of the vat, but it was going into different pails. So I started to remember numbers and that’s how I remember these things. I even remember my first phone number where I grew up in Verdun, York-8637. Only four numbers, it was easy.”
You try to get another question out and Bowman is already thinking ahead. He starts talking about dynasties and measuring them against one another. He starts with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the 1940s, then goes to the Detroit Red Wings, who won three Cups in four seasons in the 1950s. “The Red Wings finished in first place for seven straight years from ’48 to ’55 and they won four Cups.
“Then the Montreal one for five, then Toronto won four in six, then Montreal won four, then the Islanders and the Oilers. Which of those dynasties was the best team? Probably, Montreal. We lost eight games and the year before we lost 11. The ’76-77 team still has the point record, even with shootouts and overtime. We had 132 points and we had 12 ties. We lost one game at home. On Halloween to Boston 3-2. Don Cherry.”
(We tripped him up on that one, too. That loss to the Bruins was actually the night before Halloween.)
It’s hard to follow the tangents with Bowman, but you just go with it. You’re in the presence of genius, so you just try to follow along.
“The first year Toe Blake coached the Canadiens after Detroit won the Cup in ’54 and ’55, they beat Montreal in the seventh game both times in Detroit,” Bowman says. “The Rocket was suspended in ’55 and Tony Leswick scored the overtime winner in 1954 when it went off Doug Harvey’s hand. You know what they said about Harvey after that? ‘He’ll never be able to play again.’ Then he won about eight Cups. True story“Toe took over the team and there was a big controversy in Montreal. I was just starting to work there. Some people wanted Billy Reay to be the coach but (GM) Sam Pollock and (assistant GM) Kenny Reardon, because of the Rocket – Toe had played with Rocket on the Punch Line – and because he had blown up the year before and his younger brother was coming…If you look at that first year, ’55-56, (Jean) Beliveau won the scoring title and that was his first big year. The Rocket was third in scoring. That team was 45-15-10 and of those five years in a row, that was the best team. Because they had Beliveau in his prime, 24, (Bernie) Geoffrion, 24 and (the recently deceased) Bert Olmstead was a big player for them for three years and then there was a big dispute about his knees. Toronto picked him up and he helped Toronto. Dickie Moore never even got on the power play because Olmstead was there.”
Then it’s on to a diatribe about Rocket Richard. Bowman explains how Richard broke his leg early in his career and when he came back, there were too many left wingers on the Canadiens. Bowman said the only player in that era who played the off wing was Vic Stasiuk in Boston. But with no room on the left side, Rocket had to move to his off wing.
“The Rocket, as a right winger, left-hand shot, he’d go on the outside and he cut in,” Bowman says. “It’s a wonder he never got hurt, the way (Connor) McDavid did the other night, but he was so strong. When Bobby Orr first started, he used to knife through the middle and he got hit a couple of times, one time by Pat Quinn.”
You look at your watch and realize you have to get going to talk to the Hall of Famers. You shake your head and wish you could just hang out and listen to Scotty Bowman stories all day long.