Nill, Bowness Offer Living Proof That Nice Guys Can Finish First

“Walk Under the Stars” by w4nd3rl0st (InspiredinDesMoines) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It was legendary Major League Baseball manager Leo Durocher who coined the phrase “Nice guys finish last.”

No matter the sport, the philosophy fits the narrative. Professional hockey, like all sports, is a cutthroat industry. The NHL is a results-oriented business. Win or go home. 

Supposedly, there’s no room for nice on the ice. 

Except there’s always an exception to the rule. Two, in the case of the Dallas Stars.

If Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill isn’t the nicest man in professional hockey, it’s only because he finished a close second to Stars coach Rick Bowness.

There may not be two men in the game of whom the rest of the hockey world could be more delighted to see them four wins away from the Stanley Cup.

Bowness and the Stars put the Colorado Avalanche out in the second round of the playoffs and yet Colorado center Nathan MacKinnon is firmly with the campaign to get Bowness his first Stanley Cup ring

“Losing sucks. But losing to such a great person in Rick makes it a little easier, I guess,” MacKinnon explained to Sportsnet. “He’s a class act.

“Everyone is rooting for him. Everyone is wishing him the best. Myself included.”

Betting On Big D

“Dallas Stars vs. Nashville Predators 12/29/06” by Scott Ableman is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

The Stars, back in the Cup final series for the first time since the spring of 2000, will seek to win their first title since 1999 as they face the favored Tampa Bay Lightning. 

After they upset the Vegas Golden Knights to win the Western Conference final, the betting line odds on the Stars to win the Stanley Cup shortened from +650 to +150. However, that still trails Tampa Bay, the -166 odds-on favorites. 

The Stars beat the Buffalo Sabres to win their lone Stanley Cup title in that 1999 final series.

Nill Made Coaching Move

Bowness, at 65 the oldest active NHL coach, was dropped into a difficult situation when he was asked to replace Dallas coach Jim Montgomery in the midst of the season. The Stars were forced to dismiss Montgomery due to his struggles with sobriety. 

The Stars were a fragile team at the time. They weren’t in need of a firm hand. A gentle touch was required.

Bowness was exactly the man for the job. 

Jim Thomson was a rookie forward with the 1991-92 Ottawa Senators, a first-year NHL expansion team. Bowness was Ottawa’s coach that year. 

He called Thomson into his office to give him some bad news. He was being assigned to Ottawa’s AHL farm club, the New Haven Nighthawks.

Thomson pleaded with Bowness. Not about being sent to the minors. No, he understood and accepted that part of the transaction. It was New Haven. He just couldn’t go back there.

The last time Thomson was in New Haven, his mother died of cancer and his brother was killed in a traffic accident. Being back in New Haven, the memories would haunt Thomson.

Bowness nodded. He told Thomson he understood the situation and would take care of it. 

“He almost got a tear in his eye,” Thomson recalled to The Score. “He definitely felt my pain. He said, ‘Leave it with me.'”

Some days later, the Senators traded Thomson to the Los Angeles Kings.

“I’ll never forget that,” Thomson said of Bowness’ empathy. “In the world of hockey, there’s no favors. It’s pretty ruthless. You’re a piece of meat.”

Nill Adds Up To Something

Bowness and Nill are both hockey lifers. There were 65 players in the NHL postseason who’d played for Nill. Even Nill played for him when Bowness coached the Winnipeg Jets.

“He probably should have gotten me on the ice a little bit more,” Nill joked.

At best, Nill figures he’s no better than No. 3 on the celebrity chart in his hometown of Hanna, Alberta.

There’s Hockey Hall of Famer Lanny McDonald and Canadian rockers Nickelback who also hail from Hanna.

“We used to rule the roost in Hanna,” McDonald said. “Then Nickelback came along and knocked us off the front page.”

Should Dallas overcome the Lightning and win the Stanley Cup, Nill, who won four Cups as assistant GM of the Detroit Red Wings, can even envision the Stanley Cup parade in Hanna.

“Lanny will be on one float, I’ll be on another and Nickelback will play, too,” he said with a laugh.