Johnny Bower did not even need to come to Toronto. But the pint-sized goalie with the massive coronary heart grew to become part of Maple Leafs lore.
Bower, a beloved two-time Vezina Trophy winner who helped the Leafs win their final Stanley Cup in 1967, died on Tuesday. He was 93.
His household mentioned in a press release that the Corridor of Famer died after a brief battle with pneumonia.
Bower was a two-time Vezina Trophy winner who grew to become often called the China Wall. His profession took off after the Leafs claimed him in an intra-league draft in 1958, and he performed 475 regular-season video games and gained 4 Stanley Cups for the Leafs earlier than taking part in his closing recreation as a 45-year-old in 1969.
“He was an inspiration to us,” mentioned George Armstrong, who captained the Leafs’ final championship crew. “He shamed others into arduous work.
“John gave all the pieces he may throughout exercises and we weren’t going to let that previous man present us up.”
Years after retiring, Bower remained one of the crucial beloved ex-Leafs although he initially had no want to be in Toronto. Bower was taking part in fortunately with the minor league Cleveland Barons in his 30s when Toronto acquired him. He mentioned he solely confirmed as much as keep away from being suspended.
“They simply needed me for one 12 months, however I had an excellent crew in entrance of me,” Bower recalled with amusing in 2014. “I used to be there for 13 years, so it turned out very nice for me.”
The 5-foot-9 Bower gained the Vezina Trophy in 1961 and shared it with teammate Terry Sawchuk in 1965. The Leafs hoisted the Cup in 1962, ’63, ’64 and ’67, and Bower remained a standout into his 40s regardless of near-sightedness and painful arthritis.
Bower pioneered the poke-check, overtly diving head first at opposing gamers to knock the puck off their sticks. The transfer got here with a value —the mask-less goalie suffered cuts and misplaced tooth by throwing himself into the motion.
“I bought a pair hundred stitches within the face,” he mentioned throughout a 2005 interview.
Bower was the one boy amongst 9 youngsters in a household raised in rural Saskatchewan. He made his first goalie pads from an previous mattress, however put his hockey profession on maintain when he lied about his age in 1940 to combat in World Warfare II. He instructed authorities that his delivery certificates had burned in a hearth, permitting him to enlist at 16 years previous. He was stationed in England however didn’t see motion in the course of the battle due to his arthritis.
“It is a good factor I did not as a result of the Germans have been proper there ready,” he mentioned. “Numerous guys there have been killed on the seashores. I do know 4 or 5 good hockey gamers from Prince Albert who have been killed. They by no means got here again.”
Upon his return, he performed junior hockey along with his hometown Prince Albert Black Hawks earlier than turning professional with the Barons in 1945. He performed eight seasons within the American Hockey League earlier than becoming a member of the NHL’s New York Rangers in 1953. He had a bitter expertise with the Rangers and ended up again with Cleveland till being chosen by Toronto.
Bower needed to stay within the AHL, however he agreed to point out up when Cleveland normal supervisor James Hendy ensured him the Barons would take him again if Toronto did not work out.
He by no means returned, as an alternative turning into a fixture for one of many league’s most storied franchises.
Bower was inducted into the Hockey Corridor of Fame in 1976. Toronto paid tribute to him with a commemorative banner in 1995, and Cleveland retired his No. 1 in 2002.
Toronto honored Bower for his 90th birthday on Nov. eight, 2014, throughout a recreation in opposition to the Rangers. He was given a framed, autographed crest from every crew and an enthusiastic rendition of “Comfortable Birthday” from the sellout crowd.