As the hockey world remembers Johnny Bower for his contributions in the community, his Toronto Maple Leafs teammates will never forget the presence he had on the ice.
Former Maple Leafs captain Dave Keon joined Hockey Central at Noon Wednesday to share some of his favourite memories about Bower, who he won four Stanley Cups with during the 1960s.
“He was the backbone of it all,” said Keon. “When we made mistakes, he cleaned them up. He was a great goaltender and a great person.”
Bower did not break into the NHL until he was 29 years old with the New York Rangers but Keon remembers him constantly changing his age based on the situation.
“He hedged his age all the time. One time he told me that he was 32 in 1954 when he finished second in rookie [voting] when he played with the Rangers prior to coming to the Leafs,” said Keon. “So I tried to figure out what the exact age was, he always denied it and said it was something else but I think he used the minus as opposed to the plus on his age.”
Despite being an older player, Keon remembers Bower having a special presence on the ice even during practice.
“On the ice he was really competitive, he did not fool around even when he was almost 50,” Keon recalled.
“He would come out on the ice helping the goaltenders in practice, the coach would be talking and the net would be open so someone would slide a puck down towards the open net and he would go 100 miles an hour to stop it from going in. He had a terrible phobia that if it was an open net and the puck was going to it he had to stop it.”
When asked about how Bower dealt with the Leafs acquiring Terry Sawchuk after already winning two Vezina trophies and three Stanley Cups, Keon says that it did not phase him.
“Prior to Terry coming, Don Simmons had played but he wasn’t as heralded as Sawchuk was. They got along and were able to manage the situation that they were in.”
Keon said that Bower was not the most vocal player and looking back now, he could not believe what he was able to accomplish in his career at his age.
“For a guy who spent the first 13 years as a pro in the minors, coming to the NHL and becoming a mainstay on a team that won a couple of Stanley Cups that was a wonderful thing for him.”