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BOWMAN: A TEACHER IN THE FIRST DEGREE

Suella Bowman pointed her husband away from a table so there wouldn't be anything in the background when she took the picture. For once, she wanted Scotty by himself. He had straightened his cap and primped his gown. He stood there waiting for the flash, beaming, as he stared into the camera.

Scotty Bowman wouldn't have missed Saturday for the world, not even the Western Conference finals, had the Detroit Red Wings made it that far. He long ago set aside May 17, told everyone he wouldn't be available, for Saturday was the day he received the doctor of humane letters degree from Canisius College.

Bowman received an honorary degree, but in no way did that minimize the accomplishment. He received the loudest ovation during the ceremony, held in the University at Buffalo's Alumni Arena. Afterward, he walked off the stage and slipped away from the spotlight, looking like any other proud graduate.

"I wasn't nervous because, you know, they told me what to do," Bowman said. "It was something different. I was able to meet some people, and there were a lot of good fans. It's a special day, that's for sure."

Something different for Bowman is not something easy. Few have experienced more in a lifetime. Bowman is one of the all-time teachers, a mentor for generations, so it seemed fitting he would receive an honorary doctorate from a college. His daughter, Alicia, earned a master's degree in education from Canisius in 1995.

Fans know his resume, the nine Stanley Cups, the 1,467 victories including playoffs, 16 division titles, the only man to lead three teams to championships. He's widely viewed as the greatest coach in hockey history and one of the greatest minds in sports history, but he never attended college. All he had was a Ph.D. in hockey. Think he made the right choice?

"I guess I came full circle," he said with a laugh. "At least now I can look back and, even though it's not the same as going to school, it's a great honor."

It wasn't just an honor for him. It was an honor for Canisius.

Bowman has met several heads of state. He's in the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Buffalo Sports Hall
of Fame, the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. He's a member of the Canadian Society of New York. He won the Lester Patrick Award. He's been given the keys to the city of Verdun, Quebec, his hometown. He was a scorekeeper at the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where he followed Tiger Woods. The list seems endless, which is why he's among the most respected figures in sports history.

Bowman has reached a point in his life when he can take time for himself. He retired from coaching after guiding the Red Wings to the Cup, his record-breaking ninth, last June. He still serves as a consultant with the Red Wings, which is like having Picasso available for a few tips about finger painting.

But he's also busy in semiretirement because he's on invitation lists across North America. He was back in Montreal in February for a reunion with the 1976-77 Canadiens. He's going to Woodbine Race Track on June 17 to pick the post positions for the Queen's Plate. He's also being honored on the Canadian Walk of Fame in Toronto next month with actor Mike Myers, singer Shania Twain and nine other Canadians who made their mark in the United States.

Bowman made his mark, which is obvious in how people react when they meet him. They see a living legend. He signed no fewer than a half-dozen autographs for others who were part of the commencement Saturday afternoon. Years from now, they might not remember the details of the ceremony, but they will remember it was the day William Scott Bowman received a degree.

"It was nice," Bowman said. "Now you can kid people around about it."

Yes, Dr. Bowman, you can.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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