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Tuesday, Nov 25, 2014
Tampa Bay Lightning

Bowness brings time-tested approach to Lightning


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TAMPA - New team, new surroundings, new players, new conference, same style.

Rick Bowness will bring that familiar approach with him to a new team when he starts his role as associate coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning in September, joining head coach Jon Cooper's staff. With 24 years of NHL coaching experience in various roles, Bowness has seen just about every situation in the game.

But even after spending the past 14 years in the Western Conference as an assistant coach with Phoenix (1999-2006) and Vancouver (2006-13), Bowness will bring the same basic approach he has preached no matter where or when he stood behind the bench. He has, however, adjusted with the times.

"The game has changed a lot over the years and I have changed a lot with them, but the fundamentals of the game haven't changed," said Bowness, 58, who is in Tampa this week to begin house hunting. "You still have to be very strong defensively and you still have to be very, very strong in your fundamentals of the game.

"The coaching part of it, the art of it, changes with the changes of the generation of the players. The game is still the game and you do what you have to do with the science part of it. But the art of dealing with today's athletes is a different animal than it was 10 years ago, just as it will be different 10 years from now. I think it's more that I've adjusted to the generations that have come into our league than the philosophy of the game.''

At the core of it all, though, is the same principle approach Bowness has always believed in and taught.

"I believe your best offense comes from good team defense,'' he said. "Offense sells tickets and wins games, but you don't win championships without playing good team defense. You don't. So your offense has to come from good team defense, it can't be the other way around.

"You have to let the big guns run - that's one thing you have to do - but they also have to be committed as those third and fourth lines to keep the puck out of your zone.''

Bowness was let go last month as the Canucks cleaned house by firing head coach Alain Vigneault and his staff. When Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman called, Bowness immediately started doing research on the Lightning as well as Cooper, whom Bowness admitted he had to Google just to see what he looked like.

Even before a formal interview, Bowness liked what he learned.

"Every scout I've talked to in hockey tells me there are some good young prospects coming up, so you do your homework,'' Bowness said. "I don't know the kids, I haven't seen them play. ...But I know there are some good young players and I like working with young players. And there is a good, strong nucleus here.''

From the moment Cooper spoke to him, Bowness felt like the right choice among the handful of candidates the team interviewed.

"It all comes down to a fit, and for whatever reason he fit,'' Cooper said. "I like all the intangibles he brought, all the experience he brought.''

Bowness started coaching in the NHL at age 29 in 1984-85. He was an assistant coach under Barry Long with the Winnipeg Jets - a team that included players Dale Hawerchuk, Randy Carlyle, Paul MacLean, Scott Arniel and Jim Nil - for three years before taking a head coaching position with Moncton of the American Hockey League. Bowness was interim head coach with Winnipeg for the final 28 games of the 1988-89 season before heading back to the AHL with Maine.

In 1991-92, he was the head coach of the Boston Bruins before getting the head position with the expansion Ottawa Senators, where he remained until 19 games into the 1995-96 season. Since that time, he has primarily served as an assistant coach, including stints with the New York Islanders and Phoenix.

Though he would like to be a head coach once again, that is not his primary goal.

"I want to win a Stanley Cup, that's my goal,'' Bowness said. "I don't care what the job description says by my name. If it's assistant skate sharpener, I don't care. I want to win a Stanley Cup and my best chance to win a Stanley Cup is in the role I'm in now."

eerlendsson@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7835

Twitter: @erlendssontbo

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