Leafs’ legend now Heaven’s All-Star
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending legend Johnny Bower has left the terrestrial arena to play on Heaven’s All-Star hockey team. Johnny was a Lisgar resident who was generous with his retirement time. Even kids whose parents were not born when Johnny played his last NHL game (1970) knew they were in the presence of a legend.
Bower won the Stanley Cup four times with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1960s: in 1962, ’63, ’64 and the great upset of the Montreal Canadiens in Centennial Year, 1967, when Johnny was 43 years old. He shared Toronto’s goaltending with Terry Sawchuk that year. I went to watch game 2 of that series in the old Montreal Forum, when Johnny Bower shut out Montreal 2-0. Growing up in Montreal, even as a Habs fan, at a time when kids knew the name and number of every NHL player, on all six teams, Johnny Bower was a special goalie.
Johnny was a late adopter of the goaltenders’ face mask, among the last of the helmet-less goalies. The very thought of facing a shooter without a helmet would send shivers up the spine of today’s goaltenders (as it should!), but Johnny Bower was a seasoned pro before Montreal Canadiens legend Jacques Plante first wore a mask during an NHL game in New York in the late 1950s.
I learned my poke check watching Johnny Bower. The wife of one of the players on a team I played on during the 1980s once asked me about the poke check, and where I learned it. I thought about the question for a whole week before I saw her again at a game, and said the only source I could imagine of my own poke check was watching Johnny Bower on TV as a young hockey player. Now that’s high praise for someone who grew up in Montreal!
To take this picture with one of hockey’s greatest goaltenders is a moment to remember for any goalie.
Johnny and I spoke about goaltending when we met at occasional events. In the picture above, I joined Johnny for the 2013 start of the Ontario Midget “A” Championships at Vic Johnston Arena. Johnny had an understated sense of humour that is the trademark of greatness, and more stories than would fit into any get-together. He was a gentle man in every sense. I felt privileged to be in his presence.
He was one of my favourite constituents, and I enjoyed every meeting. Thanks for the memories, Johnny.