CHICAGO -- The boy goes to sleep. And while he’s sleeping, his father, the greatest coach in hockey and maybe in all of sport, floods the backyard rink.
When the boy awakes, he sees the rink, pristine and ready for after-school play. The memory is so strong he finds himself standing, to this day, on cold Chicago nights making a rink for his children.
Later the boy, closer to a man, really, sees his father step off the ice with the Stanley Cup when the Pittsburgh Penguins sweep the Chicago Blackhawks in 1992, another ring to join the already legendary collection, and tells his mother that he would like someday to work with his father, on the same NHL team. His mother, loving but practical, says that is a nice thought. The but is implied as in, but what about a real job, a real career?
Eighteen years later, the boy, by then a man in charge of his own NHL team, is on the ice in Philadelphia in June 2010. His team, the Chicago Blackhawks, have won their first Stanley Cup since 1961, and when it is his turn to lift the Stanley Cup, it feels as weightless as he knew it would. And then Stan Bowman turns and he hands the greatest treasure in sport to his father, Scotty Bowman.
“That was something I hadn’t even really thought about,” Stan Bowman said.
In the background, there is the sound of skates cutting the ice at Amalie Arena, pucks striking the boards or glass as players prepare for the Stanley Cup finals.
“I can't sit here and say that was my dream," said Stan Bowman, 41. "I hadn’t even thought about that. It just sort of happened. You’re on the ice and you get the Cup and he’s right next to you and ... ”
And then there’s a smile that tells more of the story than words ever will.
“That’s really neat,” Bowman said.
There has been another Cup ceremony since, in 2013, and the Blackhawks are now three wins away from a third Cup in six years. Game 3 is Monday night (8 ET) in Chicago.
There is talk of a dynasty.
Makes you think of the how it might be so, how all of these things, family DNA and work ethic and perseverance in the face of life-altering challenges, all combine to produce something that will likely never be seen again anywhere in sport.
The son of the winningest coach in the game who also presided over one of the greatest dynasties of all time in Montreal, now stands as one of the top general managers in hockey, the architect of a team on the verge of dynasty.
Stan Bowman was named, naturally, for the Stanley Cup, arriving in in this world shortly after his father guided the Canadiens to a championship in 1973.
For a time, he thought his name was Stanley Cup.
He was still a child when his father left the blue, blanc et rouge for a job with the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo became the base camp for the Bowmans, even as Scotty moved on to jobs with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings and now Blackhawks.
There, Stan skated on the backyard rink his dad presided over and listened to his father talk hockey with his assistant coaches or scouts or other members of the Sabres organization.
"I’ve always told people one of my favorite things to do as a kid was to just sit there and listen to my dad talk to people on the phone about hockey," Stan said. "I would just soak it up. It was different back then. There really was no video, there was no satellite to watch other games. You spent a lot more time talking about the game with your assistant coaches or whatever, and I would just sit there and listen to what they had to say and I would go to the rink with him whenever I could and just sort of observe and just kind of soak it all up."
As a child, he naturally believed that he would play in the NHL but as time passed it became clear if hockey was to be in Stan Bowman’s life, it wouldn’t be as a player. And he also knew somewhat instinctively that he did not want to take the same path as his father.
“As you get older and you realize you don’t have the talent [to play] or that that part's not meant to be, I still wanted to be involved somehow with the sport,” Stan Bowman said. “I wasn’t quite sure what that was going to look like because I really didn’t want to coach. I don’t know if it was because he was a coach and I didn’t want to try and do what he did. I don’t think I had that skill set. It was never my personality. I think you have to have a certain style to be a coach, and it’s just not me."
While Stan was attending the University of Notre Dame, where he studied finance and computers, he was on hand when his father and the Penguins swept the Blackhawks in the spring of 1992. It was shortly after that he described to his mother that he wanted to find a career in the game and more that the hoped someday to work with his dad.
It wasn’t something that either parent thought was particularly likely to happen.
Scotty recalled how Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch was always interested in what was happening to Bowman’s family. He’d written a letter supporting one of Scotty’s daughter’s applications to the University of Michigan and the Wings owner asked about Stan, who was working in the finance industry in Chicago.
“'Oh, why don’t we bring him here,'” Scotty Bowman recalled the Red Wings owner saying. “I said, ‘No, no, he should get his own job.'"
Both father and son understood that it was important for Stan to find his own way. The one piece of advice Scotty passed along was that he thought Stan should reach out to individual teams. It took time but it yielded results as Stan was offered a job with the Blackhawks.
Mike Smith had taken over the hockey operations department with the Blackhawks after Bob Murray was let go and he interviewed Stan for a job as an assistant in the department.
At one point Smith said to Stan: You don’t really want a job, do you?
“And I said, 'What do you mean?'” Stan recalled.
Smith went on to describe the hockey life as something that transcended a normal job, working weekends, late nights, travel.
“He’s like, ‘You’ve got to love what you’re doingm’” Stan Bowman said. “I said, 'Yeah, that’s what I want. Basically I’ll do anything.'"
He started as the special assistant to the general manager working on projects, examining statistics, learning the collective bargaining agreement.
When yet another overhaul took place in the Blackhawks’ front office, longtime player and broadcaster Dale Tallon was named GM and he came to Stan looking for help.
Tallon had known the Bowmans for years, his father having done some work with Scotty before the elder Bowman took over the head coaching job in Montreal.
As a former player, Tallon’s expertise was in talent evaluation and team-building and Stan’s expertise, at least in the beginning, was on the business side.
“He’s very prepared and he’s smart,” said Tallon, now the GM with the Florida Panthers. “It was a good paring, it was a good match.”
These were the beginning days of what would become something special, indeed something dynastic in the beleaguered Original Six marketplace.
Marc Bergevin, now the GM in Montreal, was there, longtime player and executive Rick Dudley was there as well.
“We had a team effort,” Tallon said.
Dudley had played for Scotty in Buffalo at the end of Dudley’s solid NHL career and then saw Stan evolve into a well-rounded NHL executive under Tallon.
“He was obviously a brilliant coach,” Dudley said recently of the Hall of Fame coach. “And it’s not surprising Stan’s had the success he’s had. He’s a very bright guy too.
“He was a very, very good talent evaluator,” said Dudley, now the assistant GM with the Canadiens. “I don’t think he gets enough credit.”
As for personality, Tallon and Dudley both praise Stan’s ability to work within the group dynamic that is crucial to building a successful team.
“Stan has no big ego,” Dudley said. "He doesn’t mind not being the center of attention. He allows his coach to be front and center most of the time, and I kind of like that in a GM."
It is one thing to learn a business like the business of running a team. It is quite another to learn it knowing that people might be judging you because you happen to share a name with the greatest coach in the game and a larger-than-life personality within the industry.
"I know initially starting out people always said, 'Oh, he’s only got that job because of his father,'" Stan acknowledged.
"I knew that wasn’t true. But it’s one of those things if you try and sit there and argue with people, people are going to say what they say. I know it’s not true but I can’t ever convince someone it isn’t other than to do what I do and do it well. And, eventually, if I do a good job, people are going to see that and that sort of just fades over time.
“That is life, though. I’m not oblivious to that. I know that people say it and think it."
In 2007, Stan was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes. He went through one round of treatment that seemed to go well but the cancer reappeared and he went through a more rigorous treatment plan that involved a stem-cell transplant.
It was a period of time that would change many things, perhaps change everything for the Bowman family and perhaps, by extension, the Blackhawks too.
During treatment Scotty and his wife, Stan’s mother, Suella, were regular visitors, even though Scotty was still with the Red Wing organization having remained in an advisory capacity after retiring as coach after the team’s 2002 Stanley Cup win.
“My second bout with it was a lot worse than my first one,” Stan said. “The first one was really somewhat benign. It was not as bad. But when I had the second time, I had to have a transplant and all that stuff it was pretty grim for a while, so it was nice to have him there.”
It was a challenging time for Stan and the Bowman family. While the treatment offered a good chance at recovery, it was grueling and there were moments when he wondered if he would make it at all.
“I’m a very optimistic person and I never got too down, but there was a time when I was in the hospital and I had the transplant and it was sort of the low point of the transplant and I remember thinking, 'God, I don’t know if I can take this anymore,'” Stan said.
“You just get to that point you just feel so sick and you’re in so much pain and luckily it didn’t last for that long. But, yeah, there are moments where you’re, 'God, is this ever going to get better?' Thankfully, it did."
It was during this time that Tallon could see how sick Stan was and also how much he appreciated Scotty’s counsel, even though they never talked specifically about what was going on with either Detroit or Chicago during their regular conversations. So Tallon approached the Wings about gaining permission to talk to Scotty about a job with Chicago.
“We had just won the Cup in Detroit in ’08 and [Tallon] called me and said I got permission from Detroit, if you wanted to come and be with Stan,” Scotty recalled.
He spoke with Ilitch, GM Ken Holland and longtime team executive Jimmy Devellano.
“And they all said it’s a no-brainer,” Scotty recalled. "You’ve got to go and help your son. So, I left Detroit on good standing, so that made it easier."
Funny how all these things come together, no?
Some 15 years after suggesting that it would be nice to work with his dad on the same team, their team, it became a reality. And something more than that.
Stan got healthy and, in fact, he remains cancer-free.
“It almost seems like a different world for me now,” Stan said. “I’ve gotten through it. I’ve got a clean bill of health. I feel great but I think in a lot ways those moments, you hear other people say it but it really does sort of change your perspective. I don’t think I get as caught up as much in the B.S. of life as some people do. Because I’ve got a different perspective on it now."
Not coincidentally the Blackhawks got healthy, too.
They would advance to the Western Conference finals in 2009 and Stan would move into the GM’s chair when Tallon was fired in the summer of 2009.
The next June, the Blackhawks would win their first championship since 1961 and win another three years later.
Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough ultimately signed off on giving Stan the GM’s job. He understands the quiet burden of being the son of a legend.
“It can’t be easy,” McDonough said. “Because you’ve got to earn your way and then some. He’s done that. In his own quiet inimitable way, I think Stan wants to be great.”
McDonough recalled the team’s first win, which happened to be in Finland at the Premier Games in the fall of 2009, and the president congratulated Stan on his first victory as GM.
Scotty was standing there and quipped that he had only 1,243 more to go to catch his dad.
Later, after the Blackhawks had won their second championship, McDonough recalled someone asking Stan if he thought he could catch his dad, who now has 13 rings in various managerial throughout his career.
“And he said, ‘It doesn’t appear so because every time I win one, so does he,’” McDonough recalled with a laugh.
Although Scotty isn’t in Chicago all that often during the regular season, he is a constant figure come playoff time. Often the two, father and son, will find themselves sitting in the stands watching a practice or morning skate chatting about the game.
“It was more an extension of what it had been, but it was maybe just more official now,” Stan said.
"We talk about the Hawks now, we could talk about our team and specifically he could give me some direct advice as opposed to more general commentary on the league. It was more, this is our team now. I think for that reason I would say it was an extension of what I had always hoped it would be.”
Scotty watches lots of games, often looking at specific players. Then he reports what he sees to the management group. Sometimes it’s at odds with what the team is doing or thinking.
"He challenges us with things," Stan said. "He doesn’t just tell you what you want to hear. He doesn’t tell me everything is right. He’s got things he sees which he doesn’t agree with and he tells you. Not in a bad way but just, 'Listen, I’m just telling you what I see.' That’s what you want, right?"
Barry Smith first started working with Scotty when Smith was coaching in Sweden and Scotty would pick his brain about certain players who might someday be NHL material. Smith then started working with Scotty in Buffalo and through their long run in Detroit.
One thing about Scotty is that he never rested on his laurels, Smith said.
Stan is the same way, he said.
“I have a great deal of respect for Stan’s work ethic,” said Smith, who has rejoined his old colleague and mentor with the Blackhawks as director of player development. “He’ll go the mile to get it done, much like Scotty did.”
To watch both of them now working together, in concert, pursuing even more success is a treat for Smith.
“I feel very lucky I can share it with both of them,” he said.
They are not all that much alike, the father and the son, which makes all of this that much more curious.
“He’s completely different than me,” Scotty said. “I had a coaching background. He’s got a different kind of background. He’s not a coach. He knows he’s never coached. I’m a little bit more emotional or something, he’s very calm.
“He’s changed a little bit since he’s had the bout [with cancer]. Everybody changes a little bit. I don’t think anything fazes him now. That’s the impression I get. I think they told him when he got sick, 'Don’t look behind, look ahead.' And he doesn’t dwell on problems."
McDonough figured the analogy that an old apple doesn’t fall far from the tree should be thrown out the window with Stan and Scotty.
“The apple’s out of the orchard,” McDonough said. “Stan is measured and composed ... analytical and stealth.
“Scotty is a little bit more aggressive. He is singularly the most curious man I’ve ever met. There are times, however, I’m on my third answer and he’s on his 10th question."
But where there is no separating the two is in the ongoing, daily desire to not just get better but to win. Plain and simple.
“By nature it’s one thing, the trait I think I’ve got from him, is that competitiveness,” Stan said. “That’s why we do this. It’s a great life and it’s a great job, but I want to win and he wants to win. That’s what makes it fun."
The Blackhawks are three wins away from a third championship in six years. With the core that Bowman has in place, even with the challenges of the salary cap, it’s hard not to imagine this team won’t be a Cup contender every season for a long time.
Does he imagine what it means to have helped create such success, especially to have created it in the long shadow cast by his father?
Does he wonder what his children, boys aged 10 and 12 and a daughter, 4 -- too young to understand much more about their granddad other than he’s a fun guy to play jokes on -- might become in the way that he wondered and dreamed growing up the son of the greatest coach of all time?
“I thought about that,” Stan said. “I always wonder if they’re going to eventually want to do something in hockey. Of course, my son thinks he’s going to play in the NHL, so he’s got that covered. But outside of that I do wonder, where is their life going to take them? Are they going to be interested in being involved with the sport in some sort of ancillary capacity, or are they going to do something completely different?”
Added the boy who dreamed the impossible only to make it so: "I am sort of excited to see how that all plays itself out over the next 15 years."