Commentary

Is it Bowman's turn with the Cup, or the Cup's turn with Scotty?

When it's Scotty Bowman's turn with the Stanley Cup, it's more of a trip back home for the silver chalice, writes Scott Burnside.

Updated: September 4, 2008, 12:48 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

EAST AMHERST, N.Y. -- When the Stanley Cup arrives at Scotty Bowman's comfortable home outside Buffalo, the greatest coach of all time is in the shower after an early-morning round of golf with his son, Stan.

Bowman's wife of 39 years, Suella, is in her work clothes trying to get the backyard ready for guests.

Two of her four grandchildren, Stan's boys Will (named after Grandpa, with whom he shares a birthday) and Camden, are helping with pompoms and teddy bears sporting Detroit Red Wings gear when the Cup rolls around the corner in its distinctive blue carrying case.

And here's the thing about this visit: It's less a momentous occasion than it is the return of an old friend.

A day with the Cup

What's it like to have a day with the Stanley Cup? Scott Burnside found out, spending time with Red Wings executive Scotty Bowman and grinder Darren McCarty, each of whom had interesting tales to tell.
• Bowman | McCarty
• Zoom gallery: See the baby-in-the-Cup photo

Earlier that morning, Walt Neubrand has received the Cup and its case from Hockey Hall of Fame colleague Mike Bolt. In some ways, it's like coming home for Neubrand, too.

Eleven years ago, Neubrand discovered he'd gotten the job as one of the Cup's attendants. Two days later, he was driving -- carefully, very carefully -- across the border, headed to Bowman's house for his first-ever Cup function.

Suella greets Neubrand warmly, and when Bowman emerges from the house onto the back deck he, too, instantly recognizes the teacher from Hamilton, Ontario.

"Right on time as usual, Walt," Bowman noted.

Apart from the passing of Bowman's beloved yellow Labrador retriever, Chumley, little has changed in the backyard -- the hammock in the same place; the table on which the Cup will rest for much of the day is the same.

If the Cup were able to speak, it might offer a sigh of relief and say, "Ah, it's good to be home."


It is difficult sometimes to reconcile Scotty Bowman the human being, father, grandfather, friend with Scotty Bowman the hockey legend. Eleven Stanley Cup rings, nine as a head coach; no one has seen the game in quite the same way that Bowman has seen it. In assembling a career for the ages, he has achieved a status as immortal, or, at the very least, non-human, as though something other than blood courses through his veins. Yet he is gracious to guests who have come to chronicle the day, opening a box containing his Stanley Cup rings and rings marking Canada Cup victories, his first NHL head coaching job with the St. Louis Blues and, of course, his wedding ring.

Then there is a tour of the house, the miniature Stanley Cups, miniature Presidents' Trophies, Clarence Campbell Bowls, so many trophies Bowman seems genuinely not to know exactly where all of them have ended up.
[+] EnlargeKatherine Kelly
Ross Dettman for ESPN.comKatherine Kelly's family has its own version of a sippy cup.

There is a table-top hockey game given to him by the Buffalo Sabres that gets a vigorous workout during the day.

Everywhere there are reminders of the fine line between knickknacks and history, and which side of that line this house represents.

Bowman proudly points out a gold watch his father, a soccer player of note in Scotland before immigrating to Canada, was awarded and which was passed on to him.

Then there is a trip to the basement.

"It's like the Hockey Hall of Fame down there, isn't it?" broadcaster and former NHL GM Harry Neale quips when he arrives.

Where to start? There are hundreds of hockey cards, many in glass cases Bowman bought from a company that was going out of business. Bobby Orr rookie cards, Wayne Gretzky cards, more than a few Scotty Bowman cards, are on display. All told, Bowman has about 500,000 hockey cards.

There are pictures with prime ministers and presidents. Framed letters from heads of state.

There is a framed letter from the first team he coached in the Montreal area (Park Extension) for which he was paid $250, asking him to come back. But the then-19-year-old was off to the Montreal Junior Canadiens and the start of what would be a coaching career without parallel in all of sport.

Nearby, there is a picture from that time with a youthful Bowman, fedora perched on his young head, with his idol, Toe Blake, leaning against the boards.

There is a picture of Bowman and Suella kissing the Cup on either sides of the trophy. Suella recalls that as the summer of 1976. She was pregnant with twins and her husband was getting ready to coach Canada in the Canada Cup.

"It was a busy summer," she recalled.

You can almost hear the clicking of the machinery in Bowman's brain as he moves from place to place. Even as he is describing one item, you can sense he is thinking ahead to the next, to the next thought that has occurred to him. He points out, in passing, how the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year changed in size. And then he's off again.
Scotty Bowman
Steve Babineau/NHLI/Getty ImagesScott Bowman's fourth Cup victory came with the Canadiens, in 1978. That's why he looks so casual.

It was how he saw the game, always thinking ahead to the next play, the next line combination.

There's a seat from the old Montreal Forum, the one occupied by Suella during Bowman's eight years as head coach.

There are three golf balls mounted on trophies representing Bowman's three hole-in-ones.

"They all came when I was out of hockey," Bowman said.

Coincidence?

"I don't know," he said with a smile.

There's a copy of an ad for Micron skates featuring Bowman and son Stan when Stan was six years old.

That ad must have run about the same time Stan Bowman received shocking news -- that his name was not really Stanley Cup as he had been led to believe, but rather Stanley Glenn Bowman, named after both the Cup and Hall of Fame netminder Glenn Hall, who played for his father in St. Louis.

"Actually, my mom told me one day, 'You know that's not really your name.' I was really mad," Stan said.


Sometimes people talk about the Stanley Cup in terms of immortality. The names are added and they are there forever. Yet, this gathering at the Bowman house is also a reminder of mortality.

Back in February 2007, Stan Bowman noticed a growth on his neck and was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. After chemotherapy, the cancer went into remission that June.

"I was sitting pretty. I thought everything was great," Stan recalled.

But the cancer reappeared this past Christmas. A more aggressive treatment of chemotherapy was followed by a stem cell transplant. Through it all, Stan Bowman remained an active member of the Chicago Blackhawks front office, where he is an assistant GM.

"As I sit here today, I am done with my treatment. The cancer is gone," Bowman said.

Is he different?

"I think anyone who goes though what I went through is different," Stan Bowman said. "I don't sweat the small stuff anymore."

[+] EnlargeScotty Bowman
Rick Stewart /AllsportBowman's eighth win came with the Red Wings, in 1998.
This summer also marked a seminal change in his relationship with his father, as Scotty Bowman joined the Blackhawks as a senior adviser.

Stan recalls sitting in the family home as a child and listening to his father talk hockey. Sometimes it would be with friends or assistant coaches, sometimes in person, sometimes on the phone.

"I would just sit there and listen and listen. I could listen to him for hours," Stan recalled. Stan Bowman didn't pursue a life in hockey until later in life and ended up helping Chicago reorganize its scouting system in the late 1990s.

He admits he's thought about working with his dad for years but the opportunity never seemed to present itself until this summer.

Stan admitted he's always wondered what his dad really thought about things that affected the Blackhawks.

"I could tell he was thinking things, but he wouldn't really tell me what he was thinking. Now I won't have to wonder," he said.

Where some fathers and sons will pursue projects like building a deck or a fence together, the Bowmans are now united in an effort to bring a Stanley Cup to Chicago for the first time since 1961.

Looking over at the Cup a few feet away, Stan Bowman wonders if he and his father will share space on it some day down the road.

"I've been striving to get my name on it, too," Stan said. "It's been a dream of mine."


The elements of the game on display at the Bowman house aren't just static, pictures and trophies, but real flesh-and-blood reminders of the game's influence on the family. There is Bowman's nephew Steve, son of Bowman's late brother Jack. Steve is a scout with the Washington Capitals. Steve's mother is here, too.

There is Barry Smith's wife Mary. Barry Smith worked shoulder to shoulder with Bowman for years in Pittsburgh and then Detroit until Bowman retired from coaching after the Wings' 2002 Cup win. Smith is now coaching in Russia or he would no doubt be present in the backyard, too.

Smith's brother Dave and his wife arrive late in the afternoon. Dave Smith was a medical trainer with the New York Rangers when they won the Stanley Cup in 1994. They recalled staying close to the Cup the entire time they had it -- it even shared space with them in their apartment bedroom.

Patrick Kane Sr., father of rookie of the year Patrick Kane, drops by to pay his respects to both the trophy and the Bowmans. The Kanes are Buffalo residents and Patrick Kane lived with Stan Bowman and his family last season in Chicago.

Young Patrick has declined an invitation to join the festivities on this day.

[+] EnlargeScotty Bowman
Elsa/Getty Images/NHLIBowman's last Cup (so far), came with the Wings, in 2002. He retired from coaching during the celebration.
"He doesn't want to jinx it for the Blackhawks," his dad explained.

Standing in front of the Cup is a distinguished older man in a Bruins jersey with the No. 17 stitched on the back -- interesting given that Bowman never worked for the Bruins. The visitor turns out to be Fred Stanfield. The former Bruin has been in the Buffalo area for 34 years and points out that his name appears twice on the Cup, courtesy of Cup wins in 1970 and '72. Each time his name appears slightly different, once identified as Fredrick Stanfield and then as Fred.

"When we won it, we never got it like they do now," Stanfield explained.

Among the visitors to the Bowman house this day is Gary Sabourin, who played for Bowman in St. Louis. As much as Bowman's reputation was made first in Montreal with the dynastic Hab teams of the 1970s and later with Cup wins in Pittsburgh and Detroit, Bowman has a special place in his heart for that Blues team. As Suella points out, it might not have been the most talented, but the players listened to Bowman and surprised everyone -- maybe themselves, too -- by advancing to the Stanley Cup finals in their first three years in the NHL.


The first time Bowman had the Cup in his possession was after the Cup win in Pittsburgh, in 1991. Long before there were official keepers of the Cup, Bowman was at a dinner in New York and former Islander great Dennis Potvin asked to borrow the Cup. Bowman acquiesced and Potvin disappeared with the Cup, leaving Bowman to wonder about its whereabouts until the middle of the night not long before he had to board a plane home.

Bowman also recalled the day at Mario Lemieux's house when it was launched by a player from the top of a rock garden, across the patio and into the middle of the pool, where it sank to the bottom. As guests tried to pull it out, it filled with water and the bowl at the top of the trophy came loose.

The Cup was due at Three Rivers Stadium at a Pirates game the next afternoon, and it had to make an emergency stop at an auto body repair shop for emergency soldering before it could make a public appearance.


For all the stuff of legend and history that permeates this day, the children running about make for a nice juxtaposition. (At one point Will, Stan's oldest son who is six, is discovered on the front walkway with a vacuum cleaner, broom, several piles of dirt and a few containers of water.)

In all, Bowman has five children. Nancy, recently married, lives in San Francisco; Alicia lives with her husband and two children in Fort Wayne, Ind.; Bob, a mortgage specialist and Stan both live in Chicago; while David lives in a facility for the disabled about 30 miles from his parents' home in East Amherst.

"We haven't all been together in over a year because of Stan's illness," Alicia explained.

So when this opportunity came up, all of the families returned to the Buffalo area. Everyone made a special effort to be part of the proceedings. Although their father has his name etched on the Cup 11 times, there are no guarantees it will ever happen again. For Alicia, she wanted her children, Ashley, 9, and Lindsey, 4, to have a chance to see it and make the Cup ritual a part of their memories as well, to understand the importance of the trophy and its importance to their family.

"I think the Cup kind of drew us here this year, honestly," Alicia said.


The afternoon light is fading and the Bowman clan is getting ready to retire to the local golf club for a dinner where Bowman will raise money for charity.

If we accept that the Cup's return is the return of an old friend, it doesn't suggest the visit is any less meaningful.

"Each one has been different because the family has been at different stages," Suella explained.

A celebration like this is a testament to her husband, she said, and to her family and friends.

"It's very meaningful. It's very meaningful to know that they can be together," she said.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.