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“You’ve Got to Fix Those Issues” – Bowness Re-Introduces Himself to Winnipeg

Photos by James Carey Lauder

“You’ve Got to Fix Those Issues” – Bowness Re-Introduces Himself to Winnipeg

The Winnipeg Jets will likely look very different on the ice in 2022-23.

The overall make-up of the team may be similar to what it has been in past years, personnel-wise, but the systems, structure and defensive coverage should look very different come puck drop in October.

On Monday, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff ‘re-introduced’ Rick Bowness to the media in his first press conference as a member of the Jets 2.0 franchise.

“This is an exciting moment for our franchise,” Cheveldayoff said. “I think it’s an exciting time for our organization. These are important times. When the calendar flips to July you start to look towards next year. This is an exciting start for us. Rick’s experience, his knowledge, his character, what he has done in the game and what he is going to do for our organization is what makes it an exciting day for me.”

We call it a ‘re-introduction’ despite most current media members’ youthful age, as well as the fact that only a few remain from Bowness’ first go around with the Jets in the 1980s.

One of which just so happens to be Game On Magazine‘s Editor in Chief, Scott Taylor.

After the 67-year-old Bowness finished his 23-minute availability, he stepped off the stage and made his way to the familiar face of Taylor, where the two shared a friendly embrace and a short trip down memory lane before those ‘youthful’ reporters moved into what was the first in-person media scrum at Canada Life Centre since March of 2020.

Having spent two seasons suiting up on the wing for the Jets, ‘Bones’ later joined the team as an assistant coach for three seasons, before taking on a head coaching role with Winnipeg’s American Hockey League farm club, the Sherbrooke Jets. He was called back to the helm in early-February of 1989, after the club relieved Dan Maloney of his duties as the bench boss.

On Sunday, the Jets officially welcomed Bowness back into the fold, announcing his return to the head coaching position in a city he knows all too well.

“Listen, it’s great to come back, but the main reasons we’re here is the good people and the good team,” Bowness told reporters. “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.”

Yes, Bowness did break the news that Winnipeg had agreed to terms with yet another familiar face, that of former Jets and Manitoba Moose player-turned-coach Scott Arniel.

Scotty will come in as the associate coach,” Bowness said of the club’s most recent hire. “I’ve known Scotty, I’ve played with Scotty a few years ago. Coached him, coached him here and coached him in Boston. He and I have kept a good rapport over the years. We have Scotty on board now. We’ve already touched base with a few more people. There are a lot of good coaches out there looking for work. It goes to getting the right people and working with good people. We’ll put the right people in place here.”

According to Bowness, the team reached out to him the day after Trotz said no. He took the offer following the second meeting with Chevy and has already begun rounding out his staff for the coming season. Alongside Arniel, Bowness will have goaltending coach Wade Flaherty at his disposal, while divulging plans to bring in two more assistants within the next week.

“Listen, I want someone who is going to communicate with the players,” he said. “That’s huge today, to deal with these young players, you have to be able to communicate. I want them to have a very positive, upbeat attitude. Listen, this game is supposed to be fun. We’re all working together and it’s a journey, it’s a long journey.”

In coming back to Winnipeg from Texas, the change of climate is one thing, but the actual geographical change from his former Charleswood residence – to which he drove to the old Winnipeg Arena in St. James and back daily – to that of the new downtown arena will be something new as well. In signing a two-year deal with a team option for a third year, he will need to adapt quickly. Bones is also on a short leash with it being just a two-year term, so his changes on-ice will need to happen both swiftly and sternly.

“You’ve got to fix those issues, off ice, and that’s what I talked with Chevy about right away,” Bowness said of the Jets of 2021-22. “All I can tell you from what I’ve seen from the outside is the way the team played was totally different from two years ago… Just in talking to the players I’m aware of more, now, of what went on. And we’re going to address those issues, which I’ve already started to do. And we’re going to correct them.”

So, he might not be the defensive-specialist and hometown product advertised as Barry Trotz, but Bowness ended up being the next best thing. In fact, he actually led a rather stingy defensive Dallas Stars team to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020, while maintaining a certain level of strong zone play over the next two seasons in Texas.

His mentality when it comes to ice time, offence and the willingness to help out in the defensive zone?

Simple, he says.

Take the ice time away from the player who isn’t willing to help out behind the goal line.

“So you’re talking about an offensive guy,” Bones said. “If he wants to win, he buys in. It’s as simple as that. And if he doesn’t buy in, then you’re taking away his ice time and you’re taking away his ability to get all those points. Because the team has to come first. And the players know who’s getting away with murder and who’s not getting away with it. So we have to hold everyone accountable at the same level. Everyone. Top to bottom. And it starts there.”

That all sounds fine and dandy, but it will only be until the puck is dropped on the 2022-23 season that any of those words begin to mean anything. Should he stay true to his word and let his players’ play to do the talking, fans in Manitoba should be pleased with the expected on-ice changes.

One player who will be under heavy levels of scrutiny is that of alternate captain Mark Scheifele. Having sounded off on his dejection and frustration levels following last year’s quiet exit from the postseason fight, Scheifele has apparently changed his tune and is “all-in” on a new brand of Jets hockey, according to Bowness.

“I was very encouraged after talking to him,” Bowness told Game On when asked about his conversations with Schefiele so far. “He’s excited about next year. I think he’s one of the guys that knows the team didn’t achieve the success that they wanted. He was very enthusiastic and looking forward to training camp. Honestly, when I hung up from him I was very encouraged. And I know he’s a great player and he’s a huge part of any success this team is going to have. And you talk about buy-in, it just sounded to me, just with the tone of his voice and the words, that he’s in. And he’s all-in. And I look forward to working with him.”

With the NHL Draft and free agency set to take place over the next two weeks, the remainder of Winnipeg’s roster will likely begin shaping up to what it may look like come opening night on or around October 11.

Either way, fans of old and new will have a chance to see a new look behind the bench this season. And hopefully, that means things will look quite different on the ice as well.

So why not take a blast from the past? There’s no bones about it.

“We know the city, we know the organization, we know the people,” said Bowness. “And we also know it’s a good team, so we got pretty excited when the opportunity came.”

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