This yr’s Stanley Cup finals options two head coaches who’re very acquainted with one another: The Dallas Stars’ interim coach, Rick Bowness, was an assistant for the Lightning’s coach, Jon Cooper, for 5 years at Tampa Bay.
George Gwozdecky has shared a bench with each of them, having been an assistant coach for Cooper, and Bowness’s colleague, for 2 seasons beginning in 2013.
Cooper, 53, had no N.H.L. expertise when he grew to become the Lightning’s head coach late within the 2012-13 season. In the low season, Bowness and Gwozdecky had been added to his employees, largely due to the almost 70 years of teaching expertise they collectively had. Bowness, 65, now holds the N.H.L. file for many video games coached (2,473 getting into the finals). Gwozdecky, 67, had been a school coach for 32 years earlier than he joined the Lightning, profitable two N.C.A.A. titles in 19 years on the University of Denver.
“In the two years I was there, Rick was a huge, huge assist to Jon in figuring out how this whole thing worked,” Gwozdecky mentioned, referring to the myriad points dealing with a first-time coach within the N.H.L., like figuring out the journey schedule.
Cooper had a restricted taking part in background and had been teaching professionally solely since 2010, and Gwozdecky had by no means labored within the N.H.L. “We didn’t have a clue,” Gwozdecky mentioned. “Rick was the guy who had to say, ‘This is the way it goes, boys.’”
Cooper took an uncommon path to the N.H.L. He labored on Wall Street, then went to legislation faculty earlier than changing into a public defender. “As a coach, his courtroom is the locker room and the press conference room,” Gwozdecky mentioned. “He’s not a guy who will answer questions with the typical clichés. They’re all well thought out.”
Bowness was named Dallas’s interim coach on Dec. 12 when the Stars fired Jim Montgomery for unprofessional conduct.
Starting with the original Winnipeg Jets in the 1988-89 season, Bowness has been an interim or head coach for six teams. Before Dallas, his last head coaching experience was with the Coyotes in 2004.
As assistants to Cooper, he and Gwozdecky bonded over their respective responsibilities — for Bowness, the defense and penalty kill, and for Gwozdecky, the forwards and power play — and their lifetimes in hockey. Gwozdecky said they often walked together to the rink from the team hotel.
“We’d go in the security door, and everyone in security knew Rick, and many of them knew him by name,” Gwozdecky said. “Everyone was always glad to see him again. He’s a salt-of-the-earth guy.”
And he likes classic rock. When he’d return to his car after a practice or a road trip, Gwozdecky recalled, “as soon as the windows were down you could hear Led Zeppelin cranking out of the car.”
Gwozdecky said he did not expect Cooper and Bowness to surprise each other in this series, which is tied at one game apiece. Game 3 is on Wednesday night in Edmonton, Alberta.
“When you’ve been around each other as much as the two of them have, you know how the other guy thinks, how he examines the game, what’s important to him, what his strengths and weaknesses are,” Gwozdecky said.
He added: “It’s going to be interesting for me to watch how both teams play against each other. Because of what each team has accomplished, there aren’t going to be dramatic changes to their game plan, but after Game 1, you’ll see some subtle adjustments here and there.”
But who is he rooting for?
“I’m torn because Rick and I, and our wives, became pretty darn close,” Gwozdecky said. “As a coach, he was put into some tough situations, but no matter where he went, he always got the most out of his teams. I’d love to see Rick get his name on the Stanley Cup, but at the same time, because of the Tampa players I worked with, and obviously the coaching staff, I’d like to see their names on the Cup as well.”
Gwozdecky said he had exchanged texts and an occasional phone call with Lightning players and staff throughout the playoffs. After Tampa Bay advanced to the finals, he teased the Lightning’s video coach, Nigel Kirwan, via text about jumping in front of players to get in the team picture.
“From a rational standpoint,” he continued, “you assume the younger guy” — referring to Cooper — “is going to have more opportunities to win it. Rick’s been around for such a long time, and helped so many organizations; for that reason I’d love for him to see his name on the Cup.”
Whoever wins, Gwozdecky can’t lose.