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Thursday, June 13
Updated: June 14, 12:58 PM ET
A perfect ending to a perfect career

By E.J. Hradek
ESPN The Magazine

DETROIT -- With no records left to break, 68-year-old Scotty Bowman skated away from coaching with the Stanley Cup over his head. And, really, it was the only way his sensational 30-year NHL career could end.

Bowman, who owns just about every coaching record in the NHL -- regular-season wins, playoff wins, Stanley Cups -- announced his retirement immediately after the Wings clinched their third Cup in six years (all under Bowman). As he did in 1998, Bowman laced up his skates and took a final spin around the ice.

It's like being coached by Red Auerbach or Bear Bryant. These are people who only came along once in a lifetime and to say he was your coach ... it's hard to put into words.
Detroit's Brett Hull on coach Scotty Bowman

Detroit captain Steve Yzerman, who said he learned of Bowman's decision on the ice after the game, called for Bowman to be the first man to carry the Cup. Afterward, he credited his coach for the team's long-standing success.

"He came here and he turned us around," said Yzerman, who became a more complete player and leader under Bowman. "He taught us what we have to do to win.

"Through the years, he kept us motivated. We couldn't have done any of this without him."

Bowman, who claimed his ninth Cup as a coach (he also won one as director of player personnel for the Penguins) to pass Montreal legend Toe Blake for the NHL record, decided to retire several months ago, telling only a few close friends.

"I made my decision during the Olympic break," Bowman explained. "It's a pretty constant chore to be a head coach of an NHL team. I just felt it was time."

Bowman's all-star cast, many of who will join their coach in the Hall of Fame, said it was an honor to play for him.

"It's like being coached by Red Auerbach or Bear Bryant," said Brett Hull, who earned his second Cup in four years. "These are people who only came along once in a lifetime and to say he was your coach ... it's hard to put into words."

Though he joined the Red Wings just 10 months ago, Hull said he felt Bowman might have done his best coaching work this season.

"I don't know if anybody else could have handled a group like we had," Hull said. "There's so many personalities, from the Europeans to the 20-year veterans to an out-going Brett Hull, and there wasn't a bump in the road once this season. I just don't think another coach could have handled it."

Russian icon Igor Larionov, who turned in a terrific series against the Hurricanes, agreed with Hull.

"We had so many new guys, brand new faces and new players, and it was tough at first for Scotty because he had to convince all these guys to play a team game, and he did it really well," Larionov said. "Scotty is a genius to be able to take this team and bring them all together and take them all the way to the Stanley Cup."

Carolina coach Paul Maurice, who is now the longest tenured coach in the league along with Ottawa's Jacques Martin, figured the likes of Bowman will never be seen again.

"There are very few people that while they're doing it you say no one is going to come close to that," said Maurice, who was six when Bowman won his first Cup in 1973. "The change of the game, the 30-team league and all that other stuff, nobody is getting near that guy."

Above and beyond the records, Maurice cited Bowman's ability to bring his team together.

"To get that team, with those players, to play a team game as well as they do, that's a gift," Maurice said. "He's an amazing man."

Now, Detroit general manager Ken Holland, who also learned of Bowman's decision during the on-ice celebration, must find someone to replace that amazing man.

"We're going to get a list of names together," Holland said. "(Assistant coaches) Dave Lewis and Barry Smith will be on that list."

Holland, who says he's waiting to hear from Dominik Hasek concerning the goalie's plans for next season, doesn't feel any pressure to name a new coach before the July 1 unrestricted free-agent period begins.

"I think the players who are unrestricted free agents know about our commitment to winning," Holland said. "So, if we decide to go after a players, I don't think it will be a big issue."

Insiders around Joe Louis Arena indicated Lewis has the inside track on the job. But, the longtime assistant and former NHL defenseman wasn't thinking about that after the game.

"I have learned so much from him," said Lewis, who said he was surprised by the decision. "No one is as good at handling star players and making adjustments from the bench as Scotty.

"Heck, he got me three Cups."

E.J. Hradek writes hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at


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E.J. Hradek Archive


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