If you were to ask me about Dallas Stars interim head coach Rick Bowness, the first pronouncement I’d make is that he’s a quality person just like his mom and dad before him.
In my mind, they’ve been a sports-loving family I’ve admired for a very long time. They don’t come much finer.
And it’s really no surprise that Rick has been following in Bob and Thelma’s footsteps every bit of the way.
For sure, it’s been my pleasure to have known all three.
That’s why I’m so happy Rick has his Stars in the Stanley Cup finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. That’s why I’m cheering loudly for the guys in green.
I can go back 68 years to pinpoint when I first discovered Bob.
He was playing for the Halifax Atlantics in the early 1950s and, with a radio beside my bed, I listened to every one of his team’s games as the Nova Scotia club won back-to-back Canadian major hockey championships.
To this day I don’t know why, but I had Bob Bowness as my favourite player on the Atlantics despite other stars like Dugger MacNeil, Muckle Hollett, Billy Ford, Billy Watson and Roy McMeekin. In those two years, Bob had 43 and 41 goals for Halifax.
Prior to the Atlantics’ two Alexander Cup titles, the Montreal-born Bowness, a tall and good looking left-winger, had a memorable winter in 1950-51 – — on and off the ice.
That’s when he won the scoring championship with the Sydney Millionaires in the Cape Breton Senior Hockey League while, away from the rink, he was falling in love with a Cape Breton girl, marrying her and moving to Halifax.
I followed the elder Bowness after his Atlantics success, watched him play senior games in the province – quite often in New Glasgow – and got to know him personally later on in my newspaper career.
Pictou County fans would remember him playing against the New Glasgow Rangers in the Nova Scotia Senior Hockey League, first with the Windsor Maple Leafs, then with the Halifax Tartans.
After I moved to the Halifax area myself, he and I often chatted hockey, talked about our families, and just got to know one another better.
Three years after I got to the city, I became sports editor of the paper. The big hockey franchise in Halifax then was the recently-arrived Nova Scotia Voyageurs. That’s where I met Thelma — Bob’s wife, Rick’s mother.
She was the Voyageurs secretary and, as I quickly discovered, a very fine and charming person. She always found time to help anyone seeking assistance, always had a smile on her face, a kindness that couldn’t be missed.
Thelma wasn’t a stranger to the sports community. In 1969, she was secretary of the Canada Summer Games in Halifax-Dartmouth. In earlier years, she won a provincial championship in speed skating while developing an endless passion for hockey.
In the Vees’ early years in town, son Rick, one of four children, was a teenager who – no surprise – hung around the Forum, enjoying the hockey atmosphere.
Rick was born in Moncton when his dad was playing for the 1954-55 Moncton Hawks. He clearly had Bob’s skills and was advancing up the hockey ladder.
The Atlanta Flames made Rick a second-round choice in the NHL draft and, in the years ahead, he wore the uniforms of the Flames, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets. There were a few visits to the minor pros, including a two-game stint with the Voyageurs.
He proved the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Rick had an off-ice experience very similar to his dad’s a generation earlier. He met a Cape Breton girl who won his heart and they married. He and the former Judy Egan of Sydney Mines raised three children, as Rick’s career took them from city to city. Halifax, though, was home.
While he was noted as a checking specialist in his 173-game experience in the NHL, it would be coaching that would keep him in the hockey world.
He has bounced around in coaching ranks, too, making stops in Winnipeg, Boston, Ottawa, New York, Phoenix, Vancouver and Tampa Bay.
It’s in Dallas that he’s found his greatest success.
Named “interim head coach” in this virus-plagued season, the “interim” still hangs around his neck. However, when the current Stanley Cup challenge is over, win or lose, I’m sure management will attempt to keep the oldest coach in the NHL with “head coach” as his new title.
The Bowness family, you can see, is quite a fascinating hockey story. It’s a story highlighted by Bob, Thelma and Rick all being inducted into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame.
In 1980, Bob went into the hall with members of the 1952-53-54 Atlantics. In 1997, Thelma was inducted with the 1971-72 Calder Cup-winning Voyageurs. In the same year, not to be outdone by his mother, Rick entered the hall in the athlete category.
Someday down the road – especially if Dallas becomes Stanley Cup champions – it’s pretty much a sure bet Rick will become a two-time inductee.
For Rick, of course, this is the third time he’s been a coach with a Stanley Cup finalist. He was with Vancouver when they lost to Boston in the seventh game of the 2011 finals. Four years later, he was on the coaching staff of the Lightning when they were beaten by Chicago. .
But first, for a few more days, here we are at the height of the weirdest season in NHL history.
With no fans in the stands, but with an adopted Haligonian at the helm of one of the clubs, we can sit in front of our televisions and cheer on one of our own.
There’s just one sad note — that Bob and Thelma aren’t around to witness their kid striving for the mountaintop of his beloved sport.