Most folks think Scotty Bowman has the ideal job. He stands behind the Montreal Canadiens' bench, chewing ice, while the most talented team in hockey reinforces his status as the coach with the highest winning percentage in NHL history.
There are some drawbacks. In Montreal, Bowman is expected to win every game and, when the Canadiens struggled through their first nine contests at a .500 clip, the boobirds generated enough hot air to soften the ice.
If Bowman does win, he is given little credit. With all that talent, anybody could win. Or could they? There is a matter of motivation, and without gaining his player's love, Bowman has certainly elicited their best efforts.
He has manipulated the roster, giving four or five hungry substitutes enough action and four or five semiregulars enough inaction to achieve maximum results from all concerned.
Bowman, who brins the Stanley Cup champions to Capital Centre tonight for a 7:30 date with the Washington Capitals, doe not permit the tiniest detail to escape his notice. For example, most NHL teams practice early; the Canadiens work out at noon.
"That's the best time, because it keeps them from being busy with other things," Bowman said. "All these guys are involved in one business venture or another. Noon practice stopped the corporate lunch. By the time they're through, it's 2 o'clock, and the business types are back in their offices."
Although practice starts at noon, the players are requires to be in the dressing room by 11:15. Some of them are invited to go out early, for extra skating. Others are invited into Bowman's office for consultation.
"Having them in the room early helps develop friendship among the players," Bowman said. "I like to have the young players on the ice early. If you keep them after practice, it's like punishment. And if they're in the room 45 minutes early, I have the opportunity to bring individuals into my office.
"I like to talk to players on the ice, but in Montreal you read about it the next day, so I restrict my comments to the dressing room."
A player late for practice is fined $100. If it doesn't happen again, he gets the money back. If he repeats the offense, the fine is doubled.
"Actually, I always start practice at 12:05," Bowman said. "It saves small headaches. A couple of guys always wait until one minute to 12, but I'm fortunate that the top player here is Guy Lafleur and he's usually the first one on the ice."
Lafleur did not appear at all for a practice in Toronto Oct. 25, in a power-play bid to renegotiate his contract, but that situation was ironed us to everybody's satisfaction the next day. Considering the proclivity of the French press to turn every snifle into a waterfall, there is remarkably little dissension withing the club's ranks. Perhaps it is because Bowman is able to persuade his team that hockey really isn't the life-or-death situatiion it appears from the newspaper treatment.
"Hockey should be fun to play and it should be just as much fun to practice," Bowman said. "I never consider praciices as conditioning. The games and off-ice training do that. Practices are just a tuneup.
"The one thing we work on every day is getting the puck out of our end. We like to crowd one side for a quick breakout. I think the toughest thing in working with hockey players is to get them to use imagination. We need to get players moving toward openings. The Europeans do it well and we can learn from them."
Other coaches can learn from Bowman, too. But it is unlikely anybody will match his record.