There might be an NHL work stoppage, but it’s not keeping Phoenix Coyotes head coach Rick Bowness off the ice. Noted for his ability to relate to young prospects and educate them about the NHL game, Bowness is currently
helping out the Utah Grizzlies coaching staff during their training camp in Boise, Idaho.
Hanging around in the crease or at the bluelines tutoring Phoenix’s future
stars is a far cry from relaxing with his family during the offseason, but he is actually at home. And he is with his family too, his hockey family. After spending the last
20 plus years involved with the game, no matter if it is Idaho, Utah, or Arizona,
he’s where he wants to be.
“I think it is great he is here,” said Coyotes prospect Fredrik Sjostrom about Bowness attending camp. “It shows that he and the rest of the organization
are very interested in what we’re doing. It’s also good for the other prospects that haven’t got a chance to play in the NHL yet. They get to show him just how hard they are playing to get to the next level.”
Bowness and Grizzlies head coach Pat Conacher are no strangers to each other,
having spent parts of four seasons together behind the Coyotes bench. When former Phoenix head coach Bob Francis was relieved of his duties during the 2003-04 season, it was Bowness who stepped in to finish out the season as the Coyotes bench boss and it was Conacher who remained at his side to help.
“Pat and I have worked very closely in Phoenix for three and a half years. We are very good friends and we feed off each other well. I think he would expect me to be around,” said
While Bowness has to wait for an NHL season to start, Conacher prepares his team and staff for a fruitful year.
Conacher’s move from assistant in Phoenix to head coach of Utah this year serves many purposes.
First, Conacher is thrilled to get the opportunity to lead a team at the pro
level. It also give Bowness and the Phoenix management someone they are familiar with in Utah. And finally, it offers consistency
up and down the ranks as it reinforces the stability of the development system and it makes all the players interchangeable.
“We talked about it over the summer,” commented Bowness on Conacher’s decision to be Utah’s head coach. “The opportunity for Pat to do that and be a head coach for the first time was there and he had to grab it. Overall,
it is great for the organization that he and I have such a strong friendship. Everyone will benefit from that. I have a ton of confidence in Pat. He is a wonderful hockey guy and a wonderful friend. It is important that my staff and his staff are all on the same page. It will benefit the players that come up and down in the future. There won’t be a discrepancy in our style of play and the standards we set.”
Bowness’ presence at camp is already paying dividends. Players are starting to go up him on their own, asking questions and tapping into the vast amount of knowledge he has.
“Bowness has been around for so long,” said an enthusiastic Sjostrom. “He has so much experience. It is great for me because I have so much to learn. I like it because I am learning so much more
every day with him here.”
The Grizzlies training camp hasn’t been Bowness’ only recent stop. He was also in attendance at last month’s Rookie Tournament in Anaheim, California.
Between the two, he has spent almost the entire last month reassessing what the future has in store.
“The biggest thing this gives me is the chance to watch the players, their work habits, their skill level, their intensity, what they bring to the rink everyday and how professional they are by the way they carry themselves on and off the ice,” said Bowness about assessing the talent. “You can really learn a lot by standing back, listening and watching. That is pretty much what I am doing. I’ll give my input to Pat [Conacher] or Gord [Dineen] when they ask for my opinion, but it is their show and I am just here to help in all areas.”
He wasn’t quick to rattle off names of players who have impressed him, only because he didn’t want to leave a prospect unaccounted for. He would finally add, that Jakub Koreis is someone that has really stood out this summer.
“[Koreis] is someone that I have noticed at this camp. I have watched him in a couple other camps and over the last few years. He has come
a long way in terms of his conditioning, which shows his off-ice habits and work habits during the summer have improved. He is skating so much better than he did two years ago and that is part of growing up. We wanted him to address his off-ice conditioning and he has shown he has. Jakub is a great example of someone I am impressed with.”
But Bowness is keeping tabs on everyone. He has been very impressed with all the players that are in attendance,
including the players who were invited from the Idaho Steelheads.
“You want to see that every prospect throughout the organization aspire to be an NHLer. And that will take time because they are going to have to learn about the what it takes to play at the NHL level. That starts with a strong commitment, good conditioning, great work habits, showing intensity and excellent focus everyday. They are going to have to learn how to act like a professional and live like one, so that is all part of their growth. If they can address these elements, then it is going to show on the ice. We want to be a very successful organization and it starts with the professionalism from our players. If they commit to be the best they can be and continue to work hard to get better each day, then everyone wins.”
His quest is far from over. Bowness plans to stay very involved with both Utah and Idaho as long as time permits. He added, “You know, once we get busy with the [NHL] season it is hard to keep up with the teams and the kids. Now I have the time to get involved, so I will be around.”
Ready or not?
Going back to last season, the Coyotes as an organization had some holes to fill. They decided to dump players and salaries at the trade deadline. By doing so, they were also able to evaluate their depth and reconfigure their developmental approach.
“After we dumped a lot of players at the trade deadline, we started bringing kids up to give them a look to best understand who was ready to play in the NHL and who needed more time with the farm team.” said Bowness. “The questions were answered and you saw the players we went after and signed over the summer. Some of these kids have wonderful careers ahead of them but that didn’t mean they were ready to play in the NHL this year.”
With the NHL lockout, prospects will be better able to develop at a productive rate, rather than rushing them
to the NHL.
“Players like Jeff Taffe, Fredrik Sjostrom and Matthew Spiller have a chance to start the year in
Utah,” Bowness explained. “They will all get a chance to play solid minutes as opposed to making our team and sitting on the bench, only getting about six to eight minutes of game time.”
By adding Utah and Idaho as full and sole affiliates this season, the Coyotes have solidified the developmental system for the organization.
The players will be challenged to work hard for a spot, whether it is coming from the ECHL to the AHL or the AHL up to the NHL.
“They will continue to get better,” he said. “The improved depth will also make our Idaho team a lot better. The players that were
borderline would have been in Utah. The way things are now they are going to come play in Idaho and work with Coach Olver. They are going to have to work harder towards moving up to the AHL and so on. It works better for all the organizations involved.”
Giving the prospects time to play, learn and advance in the the AHL and ECHL
without the NHL destination is unusual, but “It won’t hurt them at all,” said Bowness. “They will get a chance to play and that is what they need right now. Young players have to play regardless of the level they are at.”
The Grizzlies roster is starting to take shape as players are beginning to talk the same language and
understand what it is going to take to make it to the next level. Wherever each individual prospect ends up this year, they will be in a great learning
environment thanks to the cooperation and vision of the coaching staff.
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