Scotty by Ken Dryden review


The subtitle to this newly-released biography of legendary NHL coach Scotty Bowman reads as A Hockey Life Like No Other. And it certainly does justice to Bowman and his Hall of Fame career behind the bench.

Growing up on the mean streets of Verdun during the Depression and World War II, Bowman certainly lived and breathed the game practically all his life. From junior player, to a scout, to head coach for the Blues, Canadiens, Sabres, Penguins and Red Wings (not to mention eight Stanley Cup championships), to general manager, to keen observer and commentator of seven decades’ worth of legendary players and teams, as well as memorable and not-so-memorable games.

And there is no better person to chronicle this hockey life like no other than Hall of Fame Habs goalie and best-selling author Ken Dryden.

Dryden was the Habs’ man in the crease for Bowman’s first five Stanley Cups (1973, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979), and through the outstanding triumphs of this dynasty, and the somewhat prickly relationship between the two, Dryden can readily understand what makes Scotty Bowman tick and what made him the coach with the most victories in NHL history. 

So it was only logical that the pair get together once more to recall the life and career of an individual who truly had hockey in his blood.

After suffering a fractured skull from a stick that struck his head in a 1952 game when he was a member of the Montreal Junior Canadiens, it quickly ended any thoughts of continuing his career as a player. And even when he got himself a steady job in the sales department of the Sherwin-Williams paint company, Bowman could never get away from the game; during his lunch hours, he used his all-access Montreal Forum pass to watch the Canadiens’ weekly Friday practices that were helmed by Dick Irvin, Sr. and later Toe Blake. In 1956, when he realized that a future selling house paints was not in the cards for him, Bowman got a call from an up-and-coming hockey executive named Sam Pollock offering him the opportunity … joining the Canadiens’ organization as the scout for Eastern Canada. This led to coaching gigs with the Ottawa-Hull Junior Canadiens and the Peterborough Petes that resulted in winning seasons (not to mention a Memorial Cup championship for the former team in 1957-58) … and a Hall of Fame career behind the bench was born.

Scotty by Ken Dryden review

Scotty By Ken Dryden review

The book is more than just a straightforward, chronological sports biography. It’s a fascinating mix of Dryden’s intelligent look at the game and its colorful past (including how sponsored junior hockey teams served as the NHL’s farm system for many years until Pollock revolutionized the system when he became the Canadiens’ GM in 1964), and allowing Bowman to utilize his encyclopedic knowledge of hockey and his coaching acumen to give his unique point-of-view of why the teams he coached were so successful (including the 1976-77 Habs, who lost only 8 regular season games that year towards another Stanley Cup), what worked and what didn’t work (one interesting comment he shared was that the Pittsburgh Penguins team who won the 1992 Stanley Cup under his tutelage was more of a continuation of the system that was employed by his predecessor Bob Johnson, who led the Penguins to their first Cup the season before, but died of cancer in the fall of 1991). He also gives his skillful commentaries and observances to teams he didn’t coach but carefully observed throughout his career, such as the 1962-63 Toronto Maple Leafs, the 1981-82 New York Islanders and the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers.

And as an added bonus, Bowman goes the fantasy league route at the end of the book, as he hypothetically matches up the teams he analyzed throughout the narrative in an ultimate dream team round-by-round Stanley Cup playoff, to find out which team would end up as the ultimate world champions of pro hockey. It makes for a fascinating bit of what if sports reading.

Scotty: A Hockey Life Like No Otheris thorough, captivating biography of a life behind the bench, and what made such a passionate, complex person become one of the most successful professional coaches ever to guide a hockey team. (McClelland & Stewart, $34.95)

By: Stuart Nulman – [email protected]

Other book reviews:

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

Mobituaries by Mo Rocca

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