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Maple Leafs pay tribute to Bower

Players wear former goalie's No. 1 during warmups before game against Lightning

by Mike Zeisberger @zeisberger / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Johnny Bower was No. 1 in the hearts of an entire city Tuesday.

Seeing the Toronto Maple Leafs step onto the ice prior to their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Air Canada Centre simply underscored that fact.

Video: TBL@TOR: Maple Leafs pay tribute to Johnny Bower

One by one, the players came out for warmups wearing smiles on their faces and Bower's familiar No. 1 on the back of their blue-and-white Maple Leafs jerseys. Twenty players from six different countries all donning the same number.

Johnny Bower's No. 1.

As they skated around shooting pucks, one of the 19 Maple Leafs banners that dangles from the rafters hung just a bit lower. It was Bower's No. 1, a sign of respect for the Hall of Fame goaltender who died Dec. 26 at age 93 after a short battle with pneumonia.

Twenty minutes later, when the Leafs and Lightning came out for the game, there were six chairs sitting in front of the visitors and home benches, where the starters took a seat to watch a video tribute to Bower.

At the east end of the arena, Bower's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren walked onto a blue carpet that had been unfurled onto the ice. Accompanying the family were three Maple Leafs greats who were Bower's teammates with Toronto: Forwards Dave Keon, George Armstrong and Ron Ellis.

With the lights dimmed in the arena, an image of Bower's trademark smiling face was projected onto the ice while a moment of silent was observed. That was followed by a three-minute video narrated by Maple Leafs play-by-play voice Joe Bowen, documenting Bower's contributions to the Maple Leafs on and off the ice for decades.

"Johnny once said that when he decided to be a goalie, he realized he would lose all his teeth and get his face all scarred up," Bowen said.

The ceremony ended with the playing of the national anthems. There would be no one anthem singer for O Canada. For this special occasion, all 18,000-plus in attendance sang it. With the crowd in full voice, the anthem was played on an organ. That was the request of the Bower family, which thought it would be a fitting reminder of Johnny's days at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Maybe somehow, Johnny Bower was listening. An entire city certainly hopes so.

A celebration of Bower's life will be held on Wednesday at Air Canada Centre for the public. Keon will be the keynote speaker.

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