This story popped up in the Pogge discussion yesterday and it's such a great anecdote I thought it deserved it's own Fanpost. From Dave Stubbs of CanWest News Services
The final goal against Toronto Maple Leafs netminder Johnny Bower came on Dec. 10, 1969, at the Forum, Canadiens defenceman Serge Savard scoring at 11:30 of the third period in a 6-3 Montreal victory.
Nicknamed the China Wall for his, well, lack of youth, Bower was 45 years, one month and two days old, the first active NHL player eligible to collect his league pension.
Little known is the fact that a decade later, 29 years ago Friday, the goalie very nearly faced the Canadiens again.
"I told my wife, Nancy, that I thought I could do pretty good," Bower chuckled Thursday night. "And she just said, 'You're 55 and you're out of your mind.'
"She said, 'Good God, man, do you know how hard they shoot the puck? I know your reflexes are good, but they're not that good.' "
Bower has a story for every puck he stopped during his Hall of Fame career, and this is among the special tales that's been covered by the dust of retirement. He happily retold it before he joined four Maple Leafs and six Canadiens alumni introduced prior to Thursday night's Original Six contest between the Habs and Leafs at the Bell Centre.
It was Jan. 9, 1980, and Leafs goalies Mike Palmateer and Paul Harrison both were ailing with the flu. Bower, a scout for the club, was headed out on the road when he was stopped by coach Punch Imlach.
"Punch said, 'Don't go, I might need you in nets,'" Bower recalled. "Then he had me sign a $1 contract, eh? And all of a sudden, Palmateer and Harrison are thinking, 'If this old crock is coming back, one us should get better.' "
Goalie Vincent Tremblay had been summoned from the minor-league New Brunswick Hawks for this game against the Canadiens, though it wasn't certain that he'd arrive in time. So Bower scrambled to a small Maple Leaf Gardens training room to the duffle bag into which he'd zipped all of his ratty old equipment 10 years earlier.
He watched the game in this room, in full uniform, Tremblay finally starting and the ill Harrison sitting as his backup. Tremblay didn't last long, riddled for four goals in 9:35, pressing Harrison into runny-nosed action to mop up what turned out to be a 5-3 Montreal win.
"I thought maybe Punch would put me at the end of the bench in the third period, but he told me there wasn't room, and to stay in the training room where I belonged," Bower said, laughing again. "I thought that had I gotten into the game, I'd have been bombarded. Or maybe not. I think my teammates would have tried hard for me."