DENVER — Slowly but surely, we’re starting to see Dave Lowry’s fingerprints on the Winnipeg Jets.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a skilled but flawed squad wasn’t going to be fixed overnight, either. But the 56-year-old interim head coach seems to be finding his voice and getting more comfortable with each passing game and practice.
Dave Lowry quotes
A selection of quotes from McIntyre and Lowry's one-on-one interview.
On three stints behind the bench in the Western Hockey League. He was with the Calgary Hitmen from 2005-09, the Victoria Royals from 2012-17, and the Brandon Wheat Kings from 2019-20:
“I did spend a lot of time there. Sometimes you look back and think maybe I spent too much time in one place. And maybe I should have moved. But I found at the time, especially when I was in Victoria, that the NHL was hiring coaches out of junior. That seemed to be the trend. I really liked the way that our program was going. I really liked that kids who weren’t on the radar at the start of the year were getting drafted at the end of the year. And just the overall development. The biggest thing you take away out of junior hockey is you really learned how to to work and communicate with this generation of players. We all know they’re different. You learn from them. They’re great teachers because a lot of it is parenting. And how you have to handle them. The biggest difference from junior to the pros is I don’t have to worry what these guys are doing the minute they leave the rink. Where in junior I have to make sure they’re in school in the morning, they show up to their appointments on time. There’s a lot more involvement. At this level now it’s more the one-on-one communication and trying to reach out and connect with players on a daily basis.”
On the biggest change in the game from when he played:
“Cellphones were just coming in and I remember having a conversation with Peter Zezel. We were in St. Louis together and he had a cell phone in his car. And I was like ‘Why would you want that?’ Who would have known the foreshadowing. You walk into a room now and it’s odd to see somebody not on the phone. The media, especially the social media, that’s probably the biggest change that you notice.”
On whether he considers himself old school, new school or a mix of both:
“I’m flexible and I can adapt. One year I coached the Hitmen in Calgary, and I thought we were taking a team that was going into a rebuild. And you introduced a belief and got our team to play a certain way, we won 59 games and lost in the Finals. And then I look at the team when we first got to Victoria, we had a big, tough team, we led the CHL in penalty minutes. But it wasn’t a very smart team. Just a lot of unnecessary, undisciplined play. You try to put your stamp on it. We wanted to improve our improve our skill. We wanted to improve our pace and we wanted to turn it around how we played. We became a smaller, really fast team, and what that taught me is you have to find that blend. Because everybody knows you can’t change it once playoffs come. I really believe that in today’s game there’s two teams you have to have. One team has to get into the playoffs. And then you have to build a team that has the ability to win in the playoffs. So it’s finding that balance between the skill, and the players that have the intangibles.”
On his oldest son, Joel, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 2011 (fifth round), spent several seasons in the AHL and is now skating in Austria:
“I thought when he was in Springfield a couple years ago he was getting close (to the NHL). And obviously management changed in Florida (the parent club). And he got the shuffle. He’s had some injuries that probably slowed his opportunity. He understands that there is going to be life after hockey. He’s in Vienna right now That’s a pretty nice place to play.”
On what he likes to do away from the rink:
“I love to golf. I love to hike. I like to bike. I’m an average golfer that can make money. I play to my handicap. I’ve got a legit handicap, but some days I can play really good. And then some days I can shoot my handicap.”
Lowry opened up about his first few weeks on a job he never expected to have in a lengthy one-on-one chat with me on Wednesday afternoon during his club’s day off in Denver. The 16-11-5 Jets will be seeking a fourth straight victory when they face the high-flying Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night at Ball Arena.
We covered a wide range of topics — including the lineup tweaks he’s made so far, giving the young kids a chance, the idea of making players uncomfortable, what it’s really like to coach his son at the highest level and missing Paul Maurice, the man he replaced back on Dec. 17.
"I kept walking by Paul’s office and kept looking in there. There was a lot of still waiting for him to be there," Lowry said of the surreal first few days at the interim helm. The decision by Maurice to step down, rather than potentially force general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to fire him as the Jets sputtered along, brought a sense of mourning around the rink.
"I think that was the element of surprise. And once the shock disappeared, then the realization of what’s happened comes to fruition? It was shocking, and I still say that today," said Lowry. "It took a little while for it to really resonate. I was surprised as everybody else was with all this. It took a while. Obviously having conversations with Paul kind of put things at ease. Now what you do is you just try and go out and find ways to win hockey games."
After dropping a 5-2 decision to a powerful Washington team just a few hours after Maurice and the Jets parted ways, winning is all the club has done. An impressive 4-2 triumph over St. Louis on Dec. 19. A wild 5-4 overtime comeback victory against Vegas last Sunday to kick off this three-game road trip. And an efficient 3-1 decision over Arizona on Tuesday. Just like that, Winnipeg is back within a point of the Western Conference playoff line, with 50 regular-season games to go.
Lowry revealed to me he continues to talk with Maurice on a near-daily basis. Out of sight, but definitely not out of mind.
"Absolutely. Paul is gonna be a great mentor. I was fortunate I worked a short period of time with him. And I’m a better coach because of the time that I spent with them. He’s a great friend. And if there’s anything that I need, I know he’s available whenever," said Lowry.
"He’s excited when we win. That means a lot."
Those expecting Lowry to come in and completely blow it all up were no doubt disappointed. But he has put his own stamp on things. Jansen Harkins and Kristian Reichel are currently playing in the top nine. Kristian Vesalainen and Evgeny Svechnikov, a pair of first-rounders, are now two-thirds of an intriguing fourth line and combined for a big goal against the Coyotes. Dylan DeMelo and Nate Schmidt have been flipped on the blue-line. Ice time has been better balanced among the top skaters. And getting to the net has become the newest motto for the Jets, one that has paid dividends in recent games.
Paul Stastny and Andrew Copp scored on the doorstep in Vegas. Pierre-Luc Dubois notched the winner from that spot in Glendale. Lowry has his team playing an honest, hard-nosed style — which is exactly the way he wants it. And, not surprisingly, exactly the way he used to play. Never the most talented guy on his team, Lowry never had more than 19 goals in a single season. Yet he managed to play 1,195 combined regular-season and playoff games over a 19-year career with stops in Vancouver, St. Louis, Florida, San Jose and Calgary.
"I just wanted to always be respected as a guy that could play in big games. When games were on the line, someone that can be relied upon," said Lowry. "I want to get these guys to understand that sometimes it’s not the most glamorous, but it’s the guys that are on the ice at the end of the game that really have the most importance."
Now the trick is getting modern-day multi-millionaires to embrace the "all for one, one for all" mentality .
At the news conference announcing Maurice’s departure, Cheveldayoff spoke about the need for players to get a bit "uncomfortable." The implication was that Maurice’s longevity and loyalty had perhaps led to some blind spots. Lowry said it’s a fresh start and a clean slate for everyone under his watch. But there will be no country club atmosphere, that’s for sure. Fair, but certainly firm.
"Absolutely. But the biggest thing as a coach is I might be mad at you today. But tomorrow is always a new day," he said. "I can be demanding. But I’m not a guy that’s gonna hold a grudge. Every day I start with a clean slate. It’s up to the player to come back and it’s how do they respond."
On that subject, Lowry insisted he won’t be playing favourites, nor will be stand in the way of a player earning a bigger opportunity. Some critics of Maurice feel he would play veterans over kids, with prospects such as Ville Heinola and Cole Perfetti waiting in the wings.
"I don’t care where they’ve been drafted," Lowry said. "I want the player that’s going to give us the best chance to win on a given night. Some of our best guys, sometimes it’s not going to be their night. They’re human, they’re not going to play 82 perfect games. Whether they’re a young player or a veteran role guy that doesn’t play a lot that’s having a really good night, they will get that opportunity."
The list of fathers who have coached their sons in the NHL is a very short one, and Lowry recognizes the fact his boy, Adam, is on the Jets is a hot topic for some. But it’s a non-issue as far as he’s concerned, one that hasn’t caused any problems.
"It’s really just the people on the outside," said Lowry. "I know it’s unique. It hasn’t happened often. For us, in our room and all that, he’s one of 23 players that we have. He gets treated the exact same way as everybody else. The expectations, the accountability, everything’s the same. If you talk to guys within our locker room, they’ll tell you that they don’t know it’s a father-son dynamic. That’s exactly the way it will continue to be."
This may not be the way he envisioned getting his first big-league head coaching gig, but Lowry is determined to make the most of it. The Jets will launch a thorough search next summer, but a strong finish to this season could go a long way to removing the interim label.
"I really look at pressure being a privilege. In coaching your expectation is to win. And with that comes pressure, but we always talk about pressure and preparation. Responsibility of a coach and a staff to make sure your team is prepared to play. And then you just go out and you enjoy the competition. And that’s the internal pressure that we put on ourselves."
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.