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Bower, Howe were great friends, rivals

Saskatchewan natives competed fiercely on ice, vacationed together during offseason

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

It was 1963 or '64, but Mark Howe is pretty sure it was 1964. The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final, and in the handshake line at Maple Leaf Gardens, Maple Leafs goaltender Johnny Bower traded sticks with Red Wings forward Gordie Howe.

Before each series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Gordie would ask his son Mark, "When the series is over, whose stick do you want?" That time, Mark had said, "I want Bower's."

"I still have the stick to this day," Mark said Wednesday.

Bower died Tuesday at age 93. He played on the Maple Leafs' last four championship teams, in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967; was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976 and was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players presented by Molson Canadian on Jan. 1.

 

[RELATED: Bower dies at age 93 | Bower's legacy lives on with Maple Leafs | NHL legends remember Bower]

 

Johnny and Gordie were close friends. Johnny grew up poor in Saskatchewan, like Gordie did, and they used to spend summers together in Waskesiu Lake, not far from their respective hometowns of Prince Albert and Saskatoon.

Gordie's son Murray once said his dad would rush to finish his work as a groundskeeper and help Johnny finish his work at his burger place, so they could go golfing and fishing. Later, Gordie brought Colleen, who became his wife, and their children.

Mark remembers going fishing with his dad and Johnny. One day when Mark was 6 or 7, they met on a concrete pier and went out on the boat. It started raining. Hard.

"It probably got within 30 feet of the boat, and it stopped, and then it just went the other way," Mark said. "I mean, it was pouring rain out, and 30 feet from us. We never got wet. It was a strange thing. I've got a picture of Dad and Johnny out on the Waskesiu golf course. That was Dad's favorite place to go in the summertime when he was up there."

Video: Remembering Johnny Bower's life and career

The friendship extended to the rink, even though Johnny and Gordie battled against each other in the Original Six era. Mark remembers one little play that said a lot.

"I don't know if [Gordie] scored or not or Johnny made the save, but he ended up kind of crumbling into the net," Mark said. "They both kind of went down. Dad looked up and just kind of patted him on the pads."

Bower would get Mark into the visitors dressing room at Olympia Stadium to be a stick boy, as Bobby Hull would when the Chicago Blackhawks were in town. Mark would fetch tape, put sticks in racks and get autographs.

"Just hanging around those guys was pretty awesome," Mark said.

Colleen Howe died March 6, 2009. Gordie died June 10, 2016. The Howe family laid some of their ashes at the base of Gordie's statue at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon on Sept. 25, 2016, and some at Waskesiu Lake.

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