VERDUN, QUE. -- I didn’t want to like Scotty Bowman.
Growing up a die-hard Toronto Maple Leafs fan, Scotty Bowman was the ice chip chewing, chin jutting out, smug looking coach of the evil empire: The Montreal Canadiens. When correspondent Rick Westhead and me were assigned to produce a profile on the winningest coach in NHL history, I was excited. However, I have to confess I was feeling a little intimidated as we pulled up to meet the hockey icon on the street where he grew up in Verdun, Que.
This is a man who has won nine Stanley Cups and is universally considered the best NHL coach ever. Not to mention he has a reputation of being grumpy, mean, arrogant, and surly. Former player and hall of famer Dino Ciccarelli once called him a great coach, but a terrible person.
How bad could it be? The man is 86 years old, surely he must have mellowed out by now.
We got out of the car and we were met with a broad smile and a firm handshake. It turns out Scotty Bowman might have been getting a bad rap, or he needs a new public relations team. The Scotty Bowman I met was extremely friendly, super inquisitive and sharp as a tack. Over the next week and a half, Rick and me hung out with Scotty in the Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room at the Bell Centre; at a Chicago Blackhawks game where he works as a special advisor; we were even invited into his Buffalo home to check out his impressive sports memorabilia collection.
Most of the time we were joined by another hockey legend, Ken Dryden, the author of “Scotty: A Hockey Life Like No Other.”
Ken, (Mr. Dryden to me), had told me that Scotty had plenty of energy, but nothing prepared me for the walking hockey encyclopedia that is Scotty Bowman. When he’s not thinking hockey, he’s talking hockey. And he talks a lot.
He seems to have total recall of his entire career – a career which began more than 60 years ago. Not only does he seemingly know every player in the NHL, he can tell you who the rookie of the year was in 1941 (a fact he shared with us over dinner one night), who the first draft pick was in 1969, and who plays on the third line for the Minnesota Wild.
He’s on his iPhone constantly, sending texts and checking his Twitter account. In fact, to this day, Scotty and I communicate with each other via text. One day he excitedly told us the story of how he lost his iPhone in the back of a cab on the way to his hotel from the airport. He was in a panic, but he quickly fired up his iPad and was able to use an app to track the whereabouts of his phone.
He then hailed down another cab and retrieved his phone from the original taxi that was parked for the night. Just days ago, the post audio engineer for W5 told me his father played for the Peterborough Petes in the early 60s and Scotty was the coach. When I texted Scotty to remind him when the show was going to be on, I asked him if he remembered a player named Muirhead from the old Petes team. Not only did he remember Stu Muirhead, he also remembered that he was from Belleville and that he was a player who gave his all every game. Scotty also remembered that Stu played for him in 1963.
As a television producer, I’ve met more than my share of impressive, overachieving individuals, but it’s safe to say I’ve never met anyone quite like Scotty Bowman.
During one of our interviews with Ken Dryden, he pointed out that Scotty has the unique ability to learn and be amazed like somebody who is 16 or 26. He couldn’t have described him any more accurately. After spending time with Scotty, it comes as no surprise that he won 2,144 games and nine Stanley Cups in a career that spanned five decades.
His success is well documented, but what you probably didn’t know is that he’s a pretty nice guy too.