Leaf of the Day - Sept 18-21, 2008 - Johnny Bower

Editor's Note: 1967ers is dropping more historical knowledge with the launch of his Leaf of the Day series. Here's his first entry. Be sure to Buzz this up)

(Note - I usually do this on a message board.  We'll see how gracefully this translates into this sort of format.  Not every LotD will be this long.  Johnny is special.)

Sept 18-21, 2008 - Johnny Bower

And so it begins again....

Well, actually, it begins tomorrow, but I'm probably going to take tomorrow off.

I've had kind of a Sundin-esque relationship with the Leaf o' the Day thread this off-season - not really dead certain I wanted to commit to doing it again.  It's not that the Leafs have gotten progressively worse every season I've done this.  I'm fairly certain that's not my fault.  Well, sort of certain, anyway.  I think it's more that I am less jazzed about this coming season than any season I can think of.  I'm looking forward to the start of play with the same enthusiasm I usually save for a root canal.

Still, the players are skating, the scanner's been scanning and everything will muddle through somehow.

One change I am going to make for this season is that along with the normal stuff I do here, I've also scanned in the entire 1978-79 team.  Every Monday (once the season starts), I'll take one player from that team and look at what he did in the context of who he was playing with.  I've always had these individual profiles going but you never get to see the players in context.  This also saves me the trouble of actually having to think on a Monday morning.

Why 1978-79?  Well, it's 30 years ago this season, and that team had a young defenseman on it named Ron Wilson.  It's the last year of Roger Neilson and it's prior the to dismemberment that gave us the 1980's, so it's not a complete downer.  My other thought was 1984-85, which I may yet do after 1978 runs out.  See how this years team fares first.

We finished last season with Johnny Bower and the thought that you never know where the next hero is going to come from.  This isn't meant as a slight, but certainly Johnny Bower was not the most likely candidate to save the Leafs 50 years ago when he arrived.

The Leafs had been running with a starter named Ed Chadwick after they let Harry Lumley go.  I've never seen a ton of information on Chadwick.  I have no evidence that he was a particularly bad goalie, but the Leafs just weren't getting it done.  Prior to the 1958-59 season, soon-to-be-fired coach Billy Reay recommended the Leafs take a flyer on Bower, who was a 33-year-old minor leaguer with the Cleveland Barons.  Bower had played one season with the Rangers in 1953-54 (setting a Ranger rookie record with 29 wins that stood until the arrival of Lundquist) and seven more games over the next three seasons, but otherwise had spent every season since the war ended in the minors.

By the end of 1958-59, Bower was clearly the number one guy, the Leafs had made an unlikely run for a playoff spot and they pushed it all the way to the Stanley Cup final.  Bower would play 10 years in Toronto.

He also uses my local supermarket but I always seem to miss him "by that much."

The point, I guess, is that you never know who is going to come out of the woodwork to be a star.  On this team, somebody is certainly going to have to.



In 1963-64, Bower would backstop the Leafs to their third straight Stanley Cup.  This was the last season before he began splitting time with Terry Sawchuk.

1944-45    Prince Albert Black Hawks    SJHL    10    5    4    1    0    2.57                       
1944-45    Laura Beavers    SIHA                            1    1    0    0    0    3.00
1944-45    Prince Albert Black Hawks    M-Cup    3    0    3    0    0    7.67                       
1945-46    Cleveland Barons    AHL    41    18    17    6    4    3.90                       
1945-46    Providence Reds    AHL    1    0    1    0    0    5.00                       
1946-47    Cleveland Barons    AHL    40    22    11    7    3    3.10                       
1947-48    Cleveland Barons    AHL    31    18    6    6    1    2.65                       
1948-49    Cleveland Barons    AHL    37    23    9    5    3    3.43    5    2    3    0    0    4.19
1949-50    Cleveland Barons    AHL    61    38    15    8    5    3.30    9    4    5    0    0    2.96
1950-51    Cleveland Barons    AHL    70    44    21    5    5    2.99    11    8    3    0    0    2.73
1951-52    Cleveland Barons    AHL    68    44    19    5    3    2.41    5    2    3    0    0    3.40
1952-53    Cleveland Barons    AHL    61    40    19    2    6    2.53    11    7    4    0    4    1.69
1953-54    New York Rangers    NHL    70    29    31    10    5    2.60                       
1954-55    New York Rangers    NHL    5    2    2    1    0    2.60                       
1954-55    Vancouver Canucks    WHL    63    30    25    8    7    2.71    5    1    4    0    0    3.20
1955-56    Providence Reds    AHL    61    45    14    2    3    2.81    9    7    2    0    0    2.56
1956-57    New York Rangers    NHL    2    0    2    0    0    3.00                       
1956-57    Providence Reds    AHL    57    30    19    8    4    2.37    5    1    4    0    0    3.00
1957-58    Cleveland Barons    AHL    64    37    23    3    8    2.17                       
1958-59    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    39    15    17    7    3    2.72    12    5    7        0    3.06
1959-60    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    66    34    24    8    5    2.68    10    4    6        0    2.88
1960-61    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    58    33    15    10    2    2.50    3    0    3        0    2.67
1961-62    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    59    31    18    10    2    2.56    10    6    3        0    2.07
1962-63    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    42    20    15    7    1    2.60    10    8    2        2    1.60
1963-64    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    51    24    16    11    5    2.11    14    8    6        2    2.12
1964-65    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    34    13    13    8    3    2.38    5    2    3        0    2.43
1965-66    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    35    18    10    5    3    2.25    2    0    2        0    4.00
1966-67    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    27    12    9    3    2    2.64    4    2    0        1    1.64
1967-68    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    43    14    18    7    4    2.25                       
1968-69    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    20    5    4    3    2    2.85    4    0    2        0    4.29
1969-70    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    1    0    1    0    0    5.00      

Leaf Totals    475    219    160    79    32    2.49    74    35    34        5    2.47
NHL Totals    552    250    195    90    37    2.51    74    35    34        5    2.47

First All-Star Team Goalie (1961)
Vezina Trophy (1961, 1965)
Stanley Cup (1962, 1963, 1964, 1967)

- Also known as John Kizkan.
- Traded to NY Rangers by Cleveland (AHL) with Eldred Kobussen for Emile Francis, Neil Strain and cash, July 20, 1953.
- Traded to Cleveland (AHL) by NY Rangers for Ed MacQueen and cash, July 31, 1957.
- Claimed by Toronto from Cleveland (AHL) in Inter-League Draft, June 3, 1958.

The hhof take:

Although Johnny Bower's nickname was "the China Wall," it might better have been "Perseverance," for although he had a Hall of Fame career in the NHL, it certainly didn't adhere to the traditional notion of what a life in pro hockey should be about.

Bower grew up in rural Saskatchewan, the only boy in a family of nine children. He was dirt poor and never had the proper equipment. He made his goalie pads from an old mattress; he made pucks, "cow pies," from horse manure; his dad would look for suitably crooked tree branches to shave into sticks; a friend gave him his first pair of skates because his father couldn't afford to buy him a pair; and still he refined his game to become one of the best goalies of all time. In 1940, when he was 15 years old, Bower lied about his age for the first time, though not the last, in order to enlist in the army. He was sent to a training camp in British Columbia and was eventually called up by the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders and shipped to England. Four years later, he became sick during his service and was discharged in 1944, at which time he resumed his junior career with Prince Albert.

From there he began a career in the American Hockey League, which is where most goalies start out. The difference was that Bower played for Providence and Cleveland for an incredible eight full seasons before playing a single NHL game. In 1953-54, he played the entire season for the Rangers, but then spent most of the next four seasons right back in the minors, having lost the starting job in New York to Gump Worsley. During his 14 years in the minors, he won the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL's best player three times and the Hap Holmes Award for top goaltender another three times.

Bower's big break came in the summer of 1958 when the Leafs, for whatever reason, claimed him from Cleveland at the Intra-League Draft. Bower was at first reluctant to join the Leafs, even though they had finished in last place the previous season, telling them he could be of no help to the team. It was only after being threatened with suspension that he showed up for training camp that fall, and within days he had established himself as the team's number one goalie at age 34. He was to play a total of 12 years with the Leafs.

Bower, like his other five Original Six brethren, became famous for his fearless play. Maskless, he never shied away from an attacking player and in fact patented the most dangerous move a goalie can make - the poke-check. Diving head-first into the skates of an attacking player at full speed, Bower would routinely flick the puck off that player's stick and out of harm's way. One time he got a skate in his cheek, knocking a tooth out through his cheek. He suffered innumerable cuts to his mouth and lips and lost virtually every tooth in his mouth from sticks and pucks, but almost to his last game, he never wore a mask. And under the confident eye of coach Punch Imlach, Bower got better and better. He led the Leafs into the playoffs his first season with a miracle comeback ending to the schedule, and then lost two finals in a row before winning three consecutive Stanley Cup championships - 1962 to 1964.

At this time, Bower's career seemed precarious. Imlach noticed that Bower was having trouble with long shots and ordered his keeper to undergo an eye exam. Sure enough, he was short-sighted. But Bower refused to retire and kept right on going, teaming with Terry Sawchuk to win the memorable 1967 Cup with Toronto's Over-the-Hill Gang of players, led by the 43-year-old Bower himself.

After he retired in 1970 as the oldest goalie ever to play in the NHL, Bower remained with the Leafs for many years as a scout and then goalie coach, putting the pads on and helping Leaf goalies in practice. At one injury-riddled time during the 1979-1980 season, he came within a whisker, at age 56, of dressing as the team's backup. A member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Bower is one of only a select few to have his number honored by the Leafs.


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