On Monday morning, Canada Life Centre’s Matt Frost Media Centre was as full as its been since the 2018 Western Conference Final.
Monday marked Rick Bowness’ official first full day on the job as the team’s newest head coach, third in Jets 2.0 history, and eighth for the former Atlanta franchise.
“It’s nice to see some friendly familiar faces here,” the 67-year-old said upon his introduction to the media. “It’s a great honour for me to sit here today as the newest member of the Jets/True North family. I certainly want to thank Chevy and Mark (Chipman) for giving me this opportunity. I’m very excited about this opportunity. This is a very good hockey club. For whatever reason, it lost its way last year. Myself, my coaching staff when we get it all together, we’re going to work very closely with ownership, with management, everyone associated with this organization, and we’re going to get it back on the right track and get this team back into the playoffs. Very excited to be part of this family, very excited about the future of this team and very excited to get back to work on the ice in September and work with these guys.”
Rick Bowness upon entering the jam-packed #NHLJets media centre:
“Well, I’m certainly back in Canada.” pic.twitter.com/A7uSQSJRyb
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) July 4, 2022
Although not the Jets’ first target in the open and fast-paced coaching market this offseason, Bowness was quick to put out any fire that may have sparked due to offer coming as second fiddle to Barry Trotz.
“If I’m in his chair, I’m going after Trotzy too, I am,” he laughed. “It’s that simple. Trotzy is the perfect guy for this, I get that. With his resume, I would have done the same thing Chevy did. I got a nice text from Trotzy a couple days ago. It didn’t work out and that’s fine. So do I feel bad about second choice? Absolutely not. I would have done the same thing. He would have been my first choice.”
Kevin Cheveldayoff, the long-tenured general manager of the once relocated Jets franchise, actually indicated his coaching carousel conversations extended far deeper than just that of Trotz and Bowness.
“I don’t know the exact number, but I know it was upward of 12 that we talked to… I’d have to go back and count. It was quite a few,” Cheveldayoff said. It’s a really great experience, in a lot of respects, getting to talk hockey with so many passionate people. Listening to their thoughts, their beliefs, understanding that there is more than one way to play the game, that you can have passion, that you can have success. A lot of the people that we talked to have success at different levels of the game and different points in time in their career. A lot of them had won championships. And just talking about common threads with that is, like I said, was a real growing experience for me.”
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In a private scrum, Chevy admitted to hosting interviews with “most of the coaches recently hired across the league”, including that of Bruce Cassidy (now in Vegas) and John Tortorella (now in Philadelphia).
“I mentioned John because he’s an interesting individual,” Chevy said. “A lot of people are polarized with seeing some things in him. If you want to talk about a guy who is passionate about the game and knowledgeable and loves it, well, him and I when we met, we really had some good conversations.”
He also announced that the team had come to terms with associate coach Scott Arniel, who will be joining Bowness and goaltending coach Wade Flaherty as members of the staff. Two more roles are expected to be announced in the coming week.
For Bowness and the Jets, it will be yet another blast from the past, as the NHL’s all-time games-coached leader will serve his second stint as an NHL bench boss in Winnipeg, after spending four years with the Jets back from 1984-89.
“Listen, it’s great to come back, but the main reasons we’re here is because what I said earlier – the good people and the good team,” he chuckled. “Does it help that we have a connection to the city and the organization? Absolutely. Our daughter was born here in Winnipeg. She’s our token Westerner. The rest of us are Maritimers. Having that relationship with the city before, and guys like Dale (Hawerchuk). I’ve played golf with his son, Eric, a couple of months ago in Phoenix. So, having Arnie (Arniel) around.”
“I remember the first white out we had at the arena. Those things are great memories here. We’ve got memories from Winnipeg. But again, we’re here because we love the people that we’re going to work for, we love the team, we love the city and it’s nice to have those connections to the past.”
Looking further back to his time as a player for the original Jets franchise, one moment that stood out for the new hire was that of the second annual ‘Tuxedo Night’ on March 7, 1981, to which he scored two third period goals, sealing the deal on a 4-2 victory over Guy LaFleur and the Montreal Canadiens.
“Absolutely. I scored a goal,” the former Jets winger said. “I didn’t score very many. I scored two goals, one was an empty-netter. I was surprised to be on the ice in that scenario.”
Although he and the fans gathered downtown this season will not be wearing tuxedos – unless the team announces a brand new marketing ploy – Bowness will certainly have a lot of eyes on his new navy blue suit as he switches over from Dallas’ victory green, just a few months removed from a game seven loss to the Calgary Flames in the opening round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I guess at the end of the season, as a coach we lost that overtime in Game 7 with Calgary,” Bowness reflected. “We pushed the players hard all year to get into the playoffs. It’s a tough league, and it’s tough to get in the playoffs. So we pushed them hard, we had 98 points and we got in, and it was a hell of a series with Calgary. But there comes a point where, man, we pushed this team as hard as we can, as far as we can, and they need a new voice… I didn’t need a job. I want to have a chance to win. So the opportunity to head coach again, yeah, that excited me very much. We know the city, we know the organization, we know the people. And we also know it’s a good team, so we got pretty excited when the opportunity came… The players I’ve spoken with are very excited to get back on the ice and prove they’re a better team than they were last year. I get excited about that.”
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