To the city of Toronto, Johnny Bower was more than just a hockey player.
On December 26th, 2017, at age 93, John William Bower passed away due to a short battle with pneumonia. The passing comes right after the Toronto Maple Leafs commemoration ceremony of 100 years of the franchise’s history that began back on December 19th, 1917.
Johnny Bower: More Than Just a Hockey Player
Also known as “The China Wall”, Johnny Bower is one of the few most accomplished goaltenders in Maple Leafs history. The Prince Albert native captured four Stanley Cups in his 11 seasons with Toronto, including the last Stanley Cup in franchise history back in 1967. Along with his Stanley Cup rings, Johnny Bower is a two-time Vezina trophy winner, class of 1976 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, and he was most recently ranked 87th in the Top 100 Players of All Time.
World War II Veteran
Described as ‘fearless’, Johnny Bower served four years in the Canadian Military. According to Sportsnet.ca, John Bower enlisted when he was only 15 years of age. He lied about his age in order to serve his country and was later discharged in 1943. Post-war, Bower often visited veterans throughout Canadian hospitals as he always felt as if it was his duty to give back to his country.
A Different Era of Hockey
Back than goaltenders were not as protected as they are today. Obviously, the shots are a lot harder in today’s game. However, one thing stands out, no helmets. Most thought you would have to be crazy to be a goalie in those days and for good reason. Many former players have highlighted moments where goaltenders had yellow, green, purple or black bruises all throughout their bodies.
For Johnny Bower, what stood out the most during his playing years, other than no mask, was his famous poke check. Bower arguably is the one who pioneered the poke check into what it is today. Dan Ralph of The Canadian Press wrote, “he’d dive head first at opposing players to knock the puck off their sticks”. It was later determined that Bower preferred to knock down pucks with his stick due to the lack of padding in his equipment for his uses of catching.
In March of 1970, Bower retired from the NHL at the age of 45. The spring prior to his retirement, Johnny became the oldest goaltender (44), to have appeared in a Stanley Cup playoff game. Bower then went on to goalie coach, scout and assistant coach within the Maple Leafs organization. He later stepped away from the game entirely in 1990 but often appeared at Maple Leaf public events up to the point of his passing.
Over the course of 552 NHL games played, Johnny Bower finished his career with a 2.51 goals against average, 0.921 save percentage, 250 wins, 195 losses and 90 ties between the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs. In 14 of 15 professional seasons, Bower registered 0.913 save percentage or above throughout his career. For Maple Leafs fans, he will always be remembered as the goaltender to have won their last Stanley Cup.
On January 2nd, 2018, the Toronto Maple Leafs will pay tribute to Johnny Bower as they host the Tampa Bay Lightning. Johnny Bower will always be remembered as a fierce competitor on the ice and a generous man off it. He was often considered to be ‘father-like’ by his teammates, but what really stood out about Johnny Bower, was how genuine and pure he was as a person.
As the number one hangs from the rafters of the Air Canada Centre, Mr. Bower will be forever loved, forever remembered, forever a Leaf.