“And then Dick dragged me into the Montreal Canadiens locker room for 10 minutes before I walked out the back door of my car,” Bowman said. “We had no idea what was going on outside.”

The friendship of Bowman, the most successful coach in NHL history, and Dick Irvin Jr., the iconic and retired voice of Canadians on television and radio, dates back to the 1950s.

This rich and happy relationship is a riot, literally and figuratively.

Video: Bowman and Trudeau win the Stanley Cup in 1979

Hockey Night in Canada Dick Irvin Jr. interviews coach Scotty Bowman on May 21, 1979 following the Montreal Canadiens’ fourth consecutive Stanley Cup Championship. It was Bowman’s fifth and final Cup with Montreal.

Their paths had crossed before March 17, 1955 – neither can remember these details – but their bond was formed that night, in the midst of Richard’s infamous riot. triggered by the suspension the day before of Canadiens legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard by NHL president Clarence Campbell.

Over a two-hour Saturday lunch in the suburbs of Montreal, over Bowman’s salad and Irvin’s grilled cheese sandwich, two old friends who hadn’t seen each other for perhaps a decade finished their phrases, adding detail and flourishes to their stories while bouncing back and forth between decades to remember moments from two remarkable lives in hockey and beyond.

Their gentle wave of memories quickly turned into a tidal wave, a current of consciousness sweeping the names of virtually unknown players with some of the greatest legends in NHL history. The conversation would switch to then-day Montreal radio and an open online sports quiz show hosted by the late Danny Gallivan, Irvin’s broadcast partner with the Canadiens for 17 years, to Bowman hitting 18 holes of golf. history with Tiger Woods.

We were still in the parking lot on our way to lunch when Bowman, who turns 88 on September 18, asked a question.

Scotty Bowman behind the bench of the Montreal Canadiens Forum in the 1970s.

“Dick, do you remember Bobby Carragher?” Bowman asked out of the blue.

Even though he hadn’t heard the name for half a century, it was hardly surprising that 89-year-old Irvin, like Bowman in a hockey encyclopedia, remembers the little forward who played five seasons in the Quebec Senior League and played in a Friday Night Industrial League of Montreal in the 1940s.

Working for a paint company by day, Bowman coached Junior B hockey in Montreal in March 1955, a 21-year-old who rushed to the best standing places in the South Forum for Canadiens games that cost him 50 cents with his leave. -pass for the arena. Irvin was a 23-year-old oil company employee who, in the press gallery, kept statistics from his father, Dick Sr.’s games during his last of his 15 seasons as the Canadiens coach. Bowman had attended the Habs practice, absorbing Irvin Sr.’s drills for use with his junior team.

The coach’s son pulled Bowman into the Canadiens locker room through a haze of tear gas smoke and the confusion of a police evacuated arena. Montreal had lost the game to the Detroit Red Wings after a spell, the riot and the so-called Quiet Revolution that followed set to change the political landscape of Quebec forever.

Neither young man knew that in the 1970s Bowman would be in that same locker room, leading the Canadians to five Stanley Cup championships, four in a row, while Irvin would be in the broadcast booth, calling for action. .

Dick Irvin Jr. and his daughter Nancy with Scotty Bowman in October 2008 during the unveiling by the Montreal Canadiens of a Builders Row exhibit saluting former coach Dick Irvin Sr.

Irvin was embarrassed that the first recognition from other diners on Saturday was for himself, someone eager to remind him that he is still celebrated for the nine hole club record he shot in the 1980s on a field nearby golf course.

“Of course you know Mr. Bowman,” Irvin said, quickly changing the subject, the guest’s knees flexing.

Bowman was in Montreal for a few days, having driven six hours with his wife, Suella, from their summer home near Buffalo. The visit was for a ceremony on September 10 at the historic Verdun Auditorium, the 3,500-seat main rink in the renovated two-leaf building in Montreal that bears his name.

He was deeply moved by this honor, having grown up just a few blocks from this address, his father, Jack, having worked on the construction of the auditorium as a laborer in the late 1930s.

Bowman was accompanied to the ribbon cutting by Denis Savard, the Verdun-raised Hockey Hall of Fame center for whom the 82-year-old arena’s second rink had already been named.

Starting next year, the renovated facility will house the high performance center for Canada’s National Women’s Program.

Scotty Bowman with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s, and Dick Irvin Jr. on the CFCF-TV Sports set, newly hired in 1961.

Bowman won his first hockey trophy at the Verdun Auditorium as a member of the 1948 Quebec Midget Class Championship team, skating with future NHL players Don Marshall and Gordon “Bucky” Hollingworth.

Two years later, it was here that Bowman scored his first goal for the Junior A of the Montreal Canadiens as a 16-year-old Junior B.

“A tap-in, almost a goal into an empty net, on a pass from Dickie Moore,” he recalls brilliantly, having been set up by the future NHL legend he would talk to about his retirement to play for. its expansion to St. Louis Bleus in 1967-68.

His own playing career cut short by injury, Bowman turned in the mid-1950s to recruiting and then coaching. He would become the most successful coach in NHL history, winning a record 1,244 times in his 2,141 regular season games between 1967-68 and 2001-02, with 223 wins in 353 playoff games of the Stanley Cup.

Bowman won the Stanley Cup five times with the Canadiens, in 1973 and 1976-79, in 1992 with the Pittsburgh Penguins and in 1997, 1998 and 2002 with the Red Wings. He won five other championships in various capacities with the Penguins (1991), Red Wings (1998) and Chicago Blackhawks (2010, 2013, 2015).

Bowman’s roots are planted in Verdun, and the son of Scottish immigrants remains fiercely proud of his hometown.

Scotty Bowman, then coach of the St. Louis Blues, is interviewed by Dick Irvin Jr. in the late 1960s.

“I think back to my youth in Verdun, the players I admired,” he said. “Among the first was (1950s Canadiens defenseman) Dollard St. Laurent. With my father in 1954, I bought my first car from Dollard, who worked in the summer as a salesperson at a local dealership. Having my name on the arena now is a great honor. The rink has never been so beautiful, and with the beautiful annex, there will be a lot of ice for the children in Verdun.

Irvin, of course, comes from the hockey champion stock. His father, Dick Sr., was the first Chicago Black Hawks captain, then gained greater fame as a coach, winning the Stanley Cup four times, with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1932, and with the Canadians in 1944, 1946 and 1953.

The coach’s wife and two children joined him in Montreal from Regina, Saskatchewan in 1951. Irvin Jr. attended McGill University and eventually found his way to work as a clerk in an oil company. before joining the CTV Montreal branch in 1961. Working as CFCF-TV sporting director, on radio and in the television shows “Hockey Night in Canada”, he would be home for the last game of the 26 Cup championships. Stanley until his retirement in 1999.

Author of six hockey books, his most recent autobiography published in 2001, Irvin calls Bowman “one of a kind,” joking that he often reminds his friend that he is his second favorite coach of all time. , beyond family ties.

Scotty Bowman with legendary Montreal Canadiens captain Yvan Cournoyer during the 2019 Hockey 911 event to benefit the Montreal General Hospital Foundation.

In 2019, Bowman’s life was explored in the biography “Scotty: A Hockey Life Like No Other” written by Ken Dryden, the legendary goalie of the 1970s Canadiens dynasty.

He remains the greatest in-game coach Irvin has seen, with an unmatched skill at making adjustments and shuffling his lines on the fly. Bowman is almost uniformly thought to be the greatest bench coach of all time.

Irvin and Bowman have worked together in the broadcast booth over the years on several occasions, and in the last three seasons of the coach in Montreal, 1976-1979, the last three of four consecutive championships he has featured in the Irvin’s five-minute pre-production. game radio segment.

“What do you ask of a coach who never loses? Irvin asked. “Scotty bailed me out all the time. No matter who they played or how long his team had an unbeaten streak, he always found a new angle. He was obviously able to do the same with his players. “

Irvin is happy to tell Bowman a favorite story that has nothing to do with training, but rather the last 18 holes of the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach. It was there that Bowman was one of two USGA running goalscorers for Tiger Woods, who would go on to win the 100th edition of the tournament with a record 15 strokes, and runner-up Ernie Els.

Scotty Bowman behind the bench of the Montreal Canadiens, with whom he won the Stanley Cup five times during the 1970s, including four consecutively between 1976-79.

Bowman and Woods had met at an awards show a year earlier, with the golfer confessing in their friendly chat that he was more of a basketball fan than hockey. In the scores trailer after the last lap at Pebble Beach, Woods and Els checking their scorecards, the champion turned to see Bowman sitting a few feet away from him.

“Scotty Bowman. What are you doing here ? Woods said, so focused on 18 holes he’s never seen Bowman walk almost step by step with him.

“Scotty called a few days later to share every detail with me,” Irvin said with a laugh. “I said to him, ‘Scotty, I’ve been with you for six of your eight Stanley Cups (so far) and I’ve never heard you so excited.'”

Two hours after the mention of Bobby Carragher, the friends were back in the parking lot, walking to their cars, Bowman went to get his wife, Irvin went home. They were still spinning stories, remembering names and events, and said they would soon be in touch by phone again, which they have been doing consistently without fail for decades.

“I always had a good standing in the Forum in the 1950s,” Bowman recalled of the building where this special friendship began. “I knew what time to get to which door.”

Then, laughing, “And Dick, I knew a few bailiffs.

Photos: Dave Stubbs; Getty Images; Dick Irvin Jr.; Montreal General Hospital Foundation
Hockey Night in Canada video courtesy of archivist Paul Patskou

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