Toronto Maple Leafs legend Johnny Bower is celebrating his 90th birthday on Saturday.
The Hall of Fame goaltender won four Stanley Cups with Toronto in the 1960s and is one of the most popular players in Leafs history. He was even given a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame and was one of the first ‘Leaf Legends’ to be honoured with a bronze statue outside of the Air Canada Centre.
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Here are five things you may not have known about the man dubbed as The China Wall:
Bower’s family couldn’t afford hockey equipment: Bower grew up in rural Saskatchewan. He was the only boy in a family with nine children so it wasn’t easy for them to buy hockey equipment. So Bower made due. He created his first goalie pads out of an old mattress and was given a pair of skates by a friend. He even went as far as using horse manure as pucks and crooked tree branches as hockey sticks.
Bower served in the Canadian army: Bower served four years in the Canadian Army during World War II. He lied about his age and enlisted as a 15-year-old before he was discharged in 1943 due to rheumatoid arthritis. After that, Bower began focusing on his hockey career. He returned to Prince Albert in 1943 to play junior hockey and later in the AHL, mostly for the Cleveland Barons. He made his professional debut with the Barons in 1945-46.
Bower wasn’t his given last name: John Bower wasn’t his birth name. He was actually born as John Kiszkan. But during his first season in professional hockey – with Cleveland — the goaltender changed his name to Bower to make it easier for sports writers for remember. What a guy. Now, how do we get Zemgus Girgensons to do that?
He didn’t stick in the NHL until his 30s: Considering he is in the Hall of Fame, it’s hard to believe Bower didn’t stay in the NHL on a full-time basis until he was in his 30s. In the Original Six era, it wasn’t that common for teams to carry backup goalies so he spent close to 12 years in the minors before landing a full-time gig with the Leafs after a brief stint with the New York Rangers. Part of the reason he was nicknamed the China Wall was for his brick-like goaltending at an older age. Bower retired from the NHL four months after his 45th birthday.
Bower almost suited up as a 55-year-old: Moe Roberts is the oldest goalie ever to play in an NHL game, but Bower came close to breaking that record. In 1980, while working as a scout with the Maple Leafs, Bower signed a one-game contract to backup in an emergency situation. Leafs goalies Mike Palmateer and Paul Harrison had a case of the flu and the team wasn’t sure AHL call-up Vincent Tremblay would make it on time. Tremblay eventually made it to the game and rumour is Bower spent the entire game in the training room with his full gear on.