Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer has a former two-time heavyweight boxing champion of the world in his corner.
The eyes of Riddick Bowe, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan of 21 years, will be glued to his favourite hockey team’s stretch run. The Champ even vowed to knock out head coach Randy Carlyle — whom he believes delivered a hard left to Reimer’s confidence this season — if the Leafs lose Friday night’s game in Philadelphia.
Proudly waving the flag for Leafs Nation from south of the border, the 46-year-old Bowe happily answered our emailed questions (via his manager) about the Leafs’ recent struggles, his face-off with Gordie Howe and, yes, fighting.
Bowe knows hockey.
How much exposure did you have to hockey as a kid growing up in Brooklyn?
To be honest, I wasn’t much of a hockey fan growing up. I started enjoying hockey in 1993, when I was training for my second fight against Evander Holyfield. Wayne Gretzky high-sticked Doug Gilmour, which stopped the Leafs from going to the Stanley Cup. I recalled that was the only thing in the media that got more airtime than my second fight with Holyfield.
You’ve had a place in Toronto’s Rosedale neighbourhood for 20 years. What originally drew you to the city?
I had a cousin from Toronto, so I would visit once in a while. I Just really liked the people there. When I wasn’t training I would go there in the summer for a few weeks, and people were very respectful of my privacy.
What’s the best Leafs game you’ve ever seen live?
I’ve actually never been to a game. I’m hoping if they make the playoffs, I could make a game.
You got involved with the Syracuse Crunch as a limited partner back in 1994. How did that come about?
My first exposure to hockey was the Gretzky high stick, after that I found a love for the game. I did some work with [Crunch owner] Howard Dolgon, and he got me involved with the team.
You faced off against Gordie Howe, one of the toughest men to ever play the game. Do you remember the conversation you had with him?
I’m very humbled to meet such a legend of sports. Not just hockey but sports in general. Being an athlete, I have much respect for those who reach such great heights in their sports. I’m a competitor, and that was always my goal growing up — wanting to be the very best and the heavyweight champion of the world. I asked Mr. Howe what a Gordie Howe hat trick was, then gave him a few fake punches. Ha ha. To be honest, I was just scared I was going to slip on the ice.
Hypothetical question: The Leafs and Everton are both on TV at the same time. Which one do you watch live and which do you PVR?
Come on, man! Luckily I have two TVs in my living room in case that situation ever happens.
What do you say to fans who would like to eliminate fighting from the game of hockey?
Fights are one of the most exciting parts of the game. It’s tough to see players getting hurt with concussions. But these fighters are paid to be there doing their job. Same way I went in the ring to try and hurt my opponent. We all go in there at our own risk. That’s how we make our living. Taking [fighting] out of the game will leave a lot of young hockey players without a job.
If you were Leafs GM Dave Nonis, what would be the first change you make to the Leafs roster?
I think Nonis is doing a nice job. Great signing with [Phil] Kessel — he’s a star. We need a No. 2 guy to play with [Dion] Phaneuf.
Describe your reaction to the Leafs’ collapse last spring against Boston.
Man, that was heartbreaking. I was absolutely shocked. But I think that will make the team better. They are a young group that will definitely come back stronger this year in the playoffs. I see a bright future with our current roster.
Who’s your favourite Toronto player?
Kessel. What a release he has. Every time he touches the puck, in my mind, it’s a goal. Best move the Leafs made was the trade for him. Even though they gave up a lot, it was definitely worth it.
What is the worst decision Randy Carlyle has made this season?
Killing [James] Reimer’s confidence. Shooting the kid down in public. That ain’t cool.
What is the biggest similarity you see between hockey players and boxers?
Toughness. You see these basketball and baseball players hurt their pinkie fingers and then sit for two to four weeks. Hockey players are a lot like boxers; we are warriors. It’s not about the money but for the love of the game.
How do you respond to skeptical fans who think you’re only tweeting about the Leafs as a publicity stunt?
I have nothing to prove anymore in life. If any fans have any questions, feel free to reach out to me. I would be happy to talk hockey with them any time.
The team is on a six-game losing streak and must start winning. What was the best bit of motivation you were given before a fight?
I used to want to kill my opponent. I knew in my heart that I was better than the man I was facing. I had the hunger to be the best, and deep down I believed that I was. These young men have to find that fire inside of them and bring it to the game.
Thanks a lot for your time, Champ.
Absolutely, partner. That’s what’s up. Bowe Leafs Bowe.