Familiar stench for ex-Sens coach Bowness

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:35 PM ET

VANCOUVER — As their season swirls down the drain, the Senators are smelling a familiar, 18-year-old stench.

The nine-game losing streak they hauled into Vancouver Monday was within sniffing distance of the worst skid in franchise history. 

With the 1992-93 campaign winding down, Ottawa lost 14 games in a row. Then-coach Rick Bowness still remembers what that rut was like.

“Absolutely,” said Bowness, now an assistant with the Canucks. “That stuff stays with you, and it motivates you and it makes you a better person, it makes you a better coach. So I’m a much better coach now than I was back then.”

He’s also with a pretty good team. The Canucks are guided by coach Alain Vigneault, who was a Bowness assistant in Ottawa. They are not only Canada’s best team, but heading into their meeting with the Senators, No. 1 in the NHL’s overall standings.

But neither Bowness nor Vigneault forget their roots, and what it was like to be at the other end of the spectrum.

The Senators finished that first year in the NHL with a 10-70-4 mark. They won just one game on the road, and it wasn’t until near season’s end.

“Whether you lost or you won, you just hoped everything was left out there and you gave yourself the best chance,” Bowness said of the trying times in Ottawa. “Those records, you don’t want to be anything part of, but they’d be a lot worse if you just didn’t feel like everyone gave their best.”

Of course, that Senators team did not have near the same talent level as the current squad.

“There were lots of nights we walked into the rink knowing that if we give our absolute best, we’re still going to lose, because of the opposition,” said Bowness, now 56. “That was before the game. We had to hope that they were off a little bit. 

“But the most frustrating parts were when guys were down and you couldn’t get them up. And giving it their best, and you ended up losing those games. That’s human nature. That’s inevitable. That’s going to happen. You can sit here and say all you want about pride and everything else, but when you’re constantly losing, it weighs on you, it brings you down.”

The 2010-11 Senators can attest to that.

“We’re all really competitive guys, so it’s frustrating,” defenceman Chris Campoli said of the team’s losses and approaching the all-time futility mark. “I wasn’t even aware of the record. I’d like to think we’re going to win a game before it comes to that.”

Bowness will feel no relief if another Ottawa team loses more than 14.

“You move on,” he said. “We did the best we could, right or wrong. Didn’t work out. I don’t even worry about that stuff. I really don’t. You bring it up and I’ll think about it. Does it stay with you, yeah, but do you dwell on it and think, ‘Geez, I hope that record is broken?’ No. Not one bit. It means nothing.”

In the meantime, he and Vigneault are dealing with being No. 1 — for what that’s worth at this time of the season.

“It means everyone is chasing you,” said Bowness. “We know that every team we play is going to put their ‘A’ game on the ice. They have to, if they want to win. So we’re constantly challenging ourselves and we’re staying on top of our guys. That should toughen you up and hopefully, for the playoffs, we can get a better run.

“We’re not going to be evaluated on whether we finish first, second or third in the league. We’re going to be evaluated on what happens in the playoffs and that’s fine, that’s cool. That’s life.”

Just a different form than he knew almost 20 years ago.

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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