Today is perhaps the saddest day in recent Toronto Maple Leafs history. Today we lost an icon of the team, someone who was a true representative of what the Toronto Maple Leafs mean to so many people. A gentleman, a goalie, a multiple Stanley Cup winner, an honoured member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, a two time Vezina winner, a fan of the game, and a larger than life Maple Leaf—John William Bower has passed away at age 93 from pneumonia.
A statement from his family was released this evening:
We’re always looking to the past when it comes to greatness for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The last time the franchise experienced any prolonged period of success it was in the 1960’s, when the Leafs won the Stanley Cup in 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1967. The Maple Leafs of the 60’s are held on a higher platform than any others, since they were the last to bring Leafs nation a cup. Dave Keon, George Armstrong, Eddie Shack, Tim Horton are all names burned into the memories of generations of Leafs fans.
There is one name, however, that surpasses all of them. Johnny Bower is an instantly recognizable name in Toronto and beyond. It brings to mind a kind gentleman who would take time to speak to every fan he could, no matter where he was. He would sign every stick, card, jersey, and scrap of paper held out to him at a Leafs game, alumni event, or Tim Horton’s location near his home in Mississauga.
Mr. Bower was a remarkable story, turning to professional hockey after serving in the second world war despite the rheumatoid arthritis that saw him discharged. He played in the minor leagues for nine seasons before getting his break in the NHL at 29 years old. In 1958, approaching his 34th birthday, he came to Maple Leafs camp and began a twelve year career in Toronto. He captured his first Veniza trophy in 1961 at age 36, and his first Stanley Cup the next year at 37—a time when most players have retired. To him, age was just a number, and he carried on playing in net until he was 45 years old, retiring after one game in the 1969-70 season.
He would stay working with the Maple Leafs as a coach, scout and community ambassador. It was a role he held, enjoyed, and actively participated in until his passing today. No one has ever participated in more Maple Leafs charitable events than Bower. You can search Twitter and google his name to find stories of kindness and appreciation for the fans who held up his legacy, even 47 years after he played his final NHL game.
You can see the appreciation fans of all ages had for him at the jersey retirement ceremony:
Brendan Shanahan released the following statement regarding the passing of Leaf great Johnny Bower:
The entire Toronto Maple Leaf organization is deeply saddened following the passing of Johnny Bower.
Johnny was beloved by so many for much more than his Hall of Fame credentials as a player. It was his generosity of spirit, kindness and passion for people that made him a legend at life. The Toronto Maple Leafs, and our fans, are deeply indebted to Johnny for all that he gave to us, and taught us over the years. We will miss him dearly, but we know that his presence will forever be felt by our Club and our city.
Our deepest sympathies and gratitude go to Nancy, their children and the entire Bower family for sharing their husband, father and grandfather with us for so many years.
There may not be a more loved Toronto Maple Leaf nor a former player who loved them as much back.
The Toronto Maple Leafs community, and the hockey community in general, has lost a lot this evening. We’ll never see Johnny at centre ice of the Air Canada Centre again. We’ll never see him smile as the fans give him a standing ovation. We haven’t, however, lost him forever. He’ll still be with us as we cheer for the boys in Blue & White, and he’ll still be outside the arena, welcoming fans to the games from his rightful place on Legends Row.