Jets’ Bowness Shows High Expectations Again As Maurice Returns

Rick Bowness has once again put on display his high expectations and positive coaching attributes that have turned the Jets around, just as his predecessor is set to return to Winnipeg for the first time.

“I’m Not a Babysitter:” Bowness Puts Jets on Blast for Slow Starts

Bowness had some harsh words for the Jets after they started slowly for their second-straight game.

His club fell behind 2-0 to the Anaheim Ducks — the NHL’s last place team, which was on the back end of back-to-back games — and were outshot 18-7 in the first.

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It was the fourth-straight period of lackadaisical hockey and Bowness was fed up as the Sunday game came on the heels of a sluggish 4-1 loss to Metropolitan Division bottom-feeder Columbus Blue Jackets. The head coach was incensed, at one point banging his fist on the glass and using some colourful four-letter words.

Rick Bowness Winnipeg Jets
Rick Bowness was not happy with his team’s slow starts and lack of passion in their last two games, and he made that known. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Jets found their footing in the second and third periods against the Ducks, scoring five straight to leave with a win and salvage a weekend split. Still, Bowness, who has not been afraid since coming aboard to call a spade a spade, was not satisfied and made that known in his postgame comments.

“It’s just not right to start a game like that,” he said, continuing his trend of being blunt and honest. “Listen, I’m the head coach so I’m responsible for the way we start and getting our team prepared. So that starts with me. The second thing is: I’m not a babysitter. These guys are men. They’re professionals and they’re paid to show up here and go to work. My job here is to make that happen. The third thing on that would be: you cannot play this game without passion, without emotion. You cannot play this game on your heels. And I hate when we’re on our heels — it’s not right.”

Words Mean Nothing to Bowness: He Wants Action

Bowness’ club has given him the right stuff more often than not in a much-hotter-than-expected 15-7-1 start. Still, if they thought they’d built up enough good will with the 67-year-old after an 8-3-0 November to take the foot off the gas pedal for a game or two, they were sorely mistaken.

Related: 3 Jets Who Excelled in November

“So, we had a bad game on Friday and everyone is saying all the right things (on Saturday at practice), but words mean nothing to me. They mean nothing. All I want to see is action,” Bowness continued.

Against the Blue Jackets, the Jets failed to execute in any area and allowed the visitors a pretty easy time at generating ten-bell scoring chances. Two former Jets combined for three goals — Patrik Laine scored two while Jack Roslovic scored one.

The poor performance was surprising, given just three days earlier the Jets outclassed the defending Stanley-Cup champion Colorado Avalanche 5-0. It was a measuring-stick game that seemed to cement them as a true Western-Conference threat.

Despite sitting near the top of the Central Division, the Jets found over the weekend that some old habits die hard. They are not going to have 100 per cent success at playing Bowness’ systems every game, and sometimes setbacks happen. The most important thing is that setbacks are used as opportunities to learn and grow.

With his focus on personal responsibility, Bowness made it clear that no one is exempt — him included — from the accountability culture being re-established.

Winnipeg Jets Celebrate
Blake Wheeler, Cole Perfetti and Nate Schmidt of the Winnipeg Jets celebrate a goal (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

“Yeah, it’s still me and our staff getting to know our players. It doesn’t take 10 games, it takes a while and it takes different predicaments,” Bowness said. “I want to see passion and emotion in the way we play. Right or wrong, play with passion, play with emotion and we’ll figure the rest out. We’re still trying to figure this team out a little bit. We are.”

Bowness is A Different Animal From Maurice, Who Returns Tuesday

Bowness’ candid comments juxtapose him greatly with the man who’s set to return to WInnipeg Tuesday for the first time in a year.

Of course, that’s now-Florida Panthers’ head coach Paul Maurice, who coached the Jets for 601 games over parts of nine seasons. Maurice resigned last December after a long stretch of subpar play, admitting he’d taken the team as far as he could and that they needed a new voice to get to the next level.

Bowness’ voice has done just that and has been been key to a turnaround not many saw coming. Maurice’s message had become stale, and he wasn’t able to get his players to buy in, whereas Bowness has everyone — even Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, two difficult players last season — pulling in the same direction.

Maurice didn’t care how points came along as long as they did, while Bowness cares about the “how” and about sustainability. Maurice made a lot of excuses — especially when his team played down to inferior-on-paper opponents — while Bowness holds everyone to task in adherence with the “open-handed communication” pillar of the Jets’ new team pledge. Gone is the era of “I liked most of our game” after low-effort losses.

The Panthers, after winning the Presidents’ Trophy last season under interim head coach Andrew Brunette, have been mediocre under Maurice, with a 12-9-4 record thus far. Some fans are already fed up with him, noting the many shortcomings in his coaching style the Winnipeg market became all-too-familiar with. (Warning: if you click that link, prepare for some salty language.)

Paul Maurice Florida Panthers
Paul Maurice is now head coach of the Florida Panthers and will return to Winnipeg Tuesday for the first time since resigning last December. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

No one’s complaining about Bowness in Winnipeg through the first quarter of this pivotal season. The team respects him even when he is stern and strict, because they know he has their best interests at heart and wants them to succeed. Defenseman Nate Schmidt summed it up nicely last week.

“We just know when Bones is speaking,” he said, “We are listening.”