When the buzzer sounded at the end of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, the Tampa Bay Lightning rejoiced as any Stanley Cup-winning team would do. On the other bench, Rick Bowness began preparing for an uncertain future. He was named as the interim Dallas Stars head coach that season. Replacing Jim Montgomery in a tumultuous season that also rocked the entire NHL due to Covid-19. Bowness took an underachieving team farther than anyone outside of the Stars locker room believed they could go. In doing so, he not only forged a team that succeeded game after game despite all odds, but he earned himself the official position as head coach of the Stars.
Rick Bowness Season Leads to Opportunity
Rick Bowness and His Career
Bowness has been a head coach before. His career in the NHL has been quite long, dating back to the mid-1980s as an assistant. That is the role he is most known for. A role that some detractors would say he is best suited for still. As a head coach, Rick Bowness has never seen the Stanley Cup final prior to last year. He also holds a 143-302 record, hardly a stellar foundation to stand on or have confidence in.
But, the other side of the coin comes the experience of what the Dallas Stars had just gone through. They played a style of hockey not seen in the Dallas area before. Their bruising defensive attack wore teams down, exhausted opposing players, and in a random burst of offensive power that no one saw coming. They showed how deadly the team can be when shooting with confidence. It rocked the hockey norms so much that Dallas became known as a “high scoring team” for the next two rounds of the playoffs. A description they’ve rarely held before, and quite possibly may not hold again. There are those who give credit for that to Rick Bowness.
The Stars are starting the season a bit late due to Covid-19, but the excitement surrounding the Stanley Cup runners-up is building. In this shortened off-season, Bowness is riding the fan euphoria of last year. He has also been blessed with a gift very few coaches are ever given. That being that most of his starters are returning. His starting goalie, the stalwart that propelled last year’s team, is coming back. Ben Bishop is healing from knee surgery and also in the wings is a young rookie. Jake Oettinger is at a prime age to make a name for himself. Together, they give Dallas a very strong leg up on the defensive side of the ice.
The challenge for Bowness will be sustaining the health and physicality of his team. Their bone-rattling defensive play of last year’s playoffs was far more aggressive, punishing, and demanding than they had played during the season. By the finals, players were playing on wounded legs, tired backs, and with exhausted heart. The offensive weapons from the previous two rounds, most notably Jamie Benn, Denis Gurianov, and Joe Pavelski, nearly disappeared. Causing them to return to a defensive strategy of passing four, five, even six times a possession. Often leading to no shots on goal at all. Bowness orchestrated both strategies.
2020-21 Will Provide Answers
Entering the 2021 season as the head coach will determine if they will be the defensive punishers they were in last year’s playoffs. Or if they will try to produce an offensive scheme to slip their way into the playoffs again, hoping to obtain the goal they had come so close to previously. If they are to be a grinding defensive team, do they have the stamina to make it? If they are to be a high scoring squad, do they have the personnel to maintain a sharpshooting pace? As an assistant, Rick Bowness may have guiding techniques and strategies to contribute to either program and help them win, but as a head coach, his results are less than flattering. The 2021 season is upon him either way and Stars fans wait to see if Bowness can do better than he’s done before.