Skip to Main Content

NHL legends remember Bower

Hall, Mahovlich, Keon recall great goalie, even better friend, who died at 93

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- Glenn Hall was sifting through his Stony Plain, Alberta, basement overflowing with history -- it's a museum, really -- during a reporter's 2011 visit when he came upon a photo of himself and his dear friend Johnny Bower.

Hall flashed back to 1951-52, to a night when the two unmasked goalies were at opposite ends of an American Hockey League rink, Hall with the Indianapolis Capitols, Bower with the Cleveland Barons.

A rising shot struck Bower flush in the mouth and he went down in a heap, bleeding, spitting an assortment of teeth into the goal crease.

"I remember skating down the ice to see Johnny before he skated away for repairs, and he was a mess," Hall said Tuesday, mourning Bower -- a man he's held dear for more than six decades -- who died at age 93.

"Years later, I said to John, 'I think you lost seven teeth that night,' and John's wife Nancy piped up, 'It was nine!' I told John, 'Well no wonder it took you so long to get back out there.' And then I said, 'But if there were nine teeth laying on the ice, John, I'm glad they were in your end.' "


[RELATED: Bower's legacy lives on with Maple Leafs | Bower remembered on Twitter]


Hall and Bower often laughed at that story, and on Tuesday Hall was fondly remembering a great friend and a great rival, a competitor he respected and admired and a man whose friendship he cherished.

"All the people who knew Johnny, no one would say anything bad about him," Hall said. "I come from Humboldt, Saskatchewan, Johnny comes from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. He had a place up at Waskesiu Lake in the province and we went up there a couple times during the summer. Against all the rules of the day, the goalkeepers liked to keep in touch with each other.

"John played the way that the old guys did -- when they got knocked down, they didn't lay on the ice and cry. They got up. I remember that with the old guys, particularly John, and Gump Worsley. They aren't recognized for being as great as they were. They were great, great goalkeepers, very near the top, yes."

With a laugh, Hall recalled the brawls of the rough-and-tumble Original Six NHL, and of himself and Bower skating to meet each other as gloves were dropped and fists were flying all around the rink.

"John and I would go down to center ice and we'd talk," Hall said. "We weren't fighting, we weren't mad at each other. Everyone else was paired off and fighting to beat hell but John and I were just there to say, 'Hello, how are you doing? How's the wife and kids?' Those are just wonderful memories, when chaos was in the building and were just talking about different little things.

"I guess it's not really a sad story when John lived to be 93, was loved by so many and you have such great recollections of the good days. He was absolutely one of my favorites."

Video: Remembering Johnny Bower's life and career

In Toronto, legendary forward Frank Mahovlich recalled Bower, age 34 in 1958-59, arriving with the Toronto Maple Leafs from the New York Rangers and their AHL farm system, the Big M 21.

Mahovlich suggested that when a player is the age Bower was upon landing in Toronto, he's closer to retirement than he is to setting off on a run that would see him win four Stanley Cup championships.

"John was a wonderful person and a wonderful professional to sit with and discuss things about the game," Mahovlich said. "He never changed, he was the same person all the time. You could always depend on him.

"He was like a father figure to us. John even played Santa Claus a few times at our Christmas parties. We felt confident when he was in goal. It seemed that he never let you down. I was very fortunate to have Johnny on my team for four Stanley Cups in Toronto. We had some great players on those teams but Johnny was one of the best."

From his home in Florida, Maple Leafs legend Dave Keon recalled Bower as "a great teammate, a great goaltender and a great person. It's sad that we've lost him because there seems to be a passing of a lot of the guys who played in the six-team NHL."

(From L-R) Johnny Bower, Bruins legend Johnny Bucyk, Maple Leafs legends David Keon and Red Kelly, and Blackhawks legend Glenn Hall speak to the media after being named as five of the 100 Greatest NHL Players. (Photo by Getty Images)

Bower backstopped a great many Toronto victories, Keon's teammate on four champions. But perhaps no single triumph comes to Keon's mind more quickly than Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings, the Maple Leafs trailing in the series 3-2.

"We were losing 2-1 and Norm Ullman and Larry Jeffrey are in front of John all alone," Keon recalled. "Normie passed it to Larry, he shot and John reached back and made the save. I always thought that if Detroit had made it 3-1, we'd not have come back. But we did. Bobby Baun scored the winner in overtime (famously on a fractured ankle) and we won the seventh game to win the Stanley Cup.

"I always remember that save. We were tired, sitting on the bench, all lethargic, and I thought to myself, 'Holy (expletive), this guy is almost 40 and he's diving across the crease. Surely we can muster something.' "

Stubbs photo taken Oct. 23, 2017 at NHL Alumni Gala in Toronto. Bob Baun (plaid jacket) and teammate Johnny Bower, who together won four Stanley Cups with Leafs in the 1960s. This was one of the last public functions Bower attended.

To those outside the dressing room, Bower forever seemed to be a happy-go-lucky figure, always smiling -- unless he was getting hit in the chops by a stick, pucks or skates -- and always with a good word for anyone who crossed his path.

"By the time John had made it to Toronto, he'd seen pretty much everything from a hockey player's standpoint," Keon said. "He'd been with a number of teams in the American Hockey League then gone up to the New York Rangers. He played well, ended up going back down to the minors then came to Toronto and he found his niche.

"He wasn't going to let that chance to succeed go by. He felt it would have been his last kick at the can and he certainly took advantage of it. He was a great goaltender and then he became the backbone of the Maple Leaf teams."

Glenn Hall, Johnny Bower and Gump Worsley at the Hockey Hall of Fame (Photo courtesy of Hall family)

View More