One of the greatest goaltenders in the history of the National Hockey League passed away on Boxing Day at the age of 93. Johnny Bower of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan played 15 seasons with the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs from 1953 to 1970, and played in the National Hockey League until he was 45.
Just think of that for a second. Future hockey hall of famer Jaromir Jagr of the Calgary Flames is currently 45 years of age, and Bower played until 45 in the most demanding position in hockey without a mask.
Bower was not a big man. He was 5’11”, 190 pounds. However he had unbelievable courage and tenacity to stop the puck.
Twice Bower won the Vezina Trophy. The first time came in 1961 and the second time came in 1965. In fact, he is one of only two Maple Leafs goaltenders to win the Vezina Trophy twice. The first one was Turk Broda, who won in 1941 and 1948. Other Maple Leafs goaltenders who have won the Vezina are Al Rollins (1951), Harry Lumley (1954), and Terry Sawchuk, who shared the Vezina Trophy with Bower in 1965.
It should be pointed out the Maple Leafs have had some decent goaltenders over the last 42 years. The list includes Curtis Joseph, Felix Potvin, James Reimer, Jonathan Bernier and now Frederik Andersen. However none have been able to accomplish what Bower was able to do with the Maple Leafs in the 1960’s—and that is win two Vezina Trophies, win four Stanley Cups, play in four All-Star Games and be named to the NHL’s first all-star team on one occasion.
Bower will go down in Maple Leafs lore as more than just a goaltending legend. He is a Hockey Hall of Famer (1976), a member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (1999) and has his star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto (2007). Bower was extremely proud to be a member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and it is at a couple of functions in Calgary where Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame inducted members were present, where I had the thrill to meet the man who was simply called “The China Wall.”