There are only three people in this world I thought would live forever. One of them was my dad. The other two were Gordie Howe and Johnny Bower. Dad, who was instrumental in making me a hockey fan, passed away eleven years ago, Gordie left us in June of 2016, and Johnny Bower died on Boxing Day, (coincidentally the same day my dad died). So much for my psychic capabilities.
Windsor - December 28, 2017 - There are only three people in this world I thought would live forever. One of them was my dad. The other two were Gordie Howe and Johnny Bower. Dad, who was instrumental in making me a hockey fan, passed away eleven years ago, Gordie left us in June of 2016, and Johnny Bower died on Boxing Day, (coincidentally the same day my dad died). So much for my psychic capabilities.
Bower was the NHL goaltender who broke into the league as a rookie with the New York Rangers at the age of twenty-nine, only to be returned to the minor leagues for several years. In 1958 he was claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Inter-League Draft, and backstopped them to four Stanley Cups in the 1960s.
As the accolades and stories continue to pour in about Mr. Bower, I am reminded of the three times I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with him. The first time I met “The China Wall” he was at a local window company, signing autographs. I was working the night shift, so it meant getting up and going after only a couple of hours of sleep. It was well worth it, as Mr. Bower made a big fuss over my kids, thanked them for coming, signed photos, and took pictures with us. One of the items I had him sign was a copy of a photo of him in a fishing boat with his old Saskatchewan pal, Gordie Howe. Bower’s wife Nancy saw the photo and knew that it was taken at Lake Waskesiu, in Prince Albert (Saskatchewan) National Park. She remembered serving green peas with the fish they caught, because “Gordon loved his green peas.”
The second time the Leafs legend and I crossed paths was in 2008, at the Memorial Cup Tournament in Kitchener. When I shook his oven mitt sized hand, he winced. I said, “Mr. Bower, I’m sorry, did I hurt you?” He responded that he had been doing some gardening at home earlier in the day and had injured it. In spite of his discomfort, he sat there and shook hands with everyone who approached him. I had a photo taken with him, which I later sent to him with a request to sign it for me. I also sent along a couple of photos of Leafs players from the the late 1950s and asked if he could identify them for me. He signed my photo and attached a note to the photo of the unidentified players. “Hi Tim, I’m sorry, but I don’t know who these players are. I took your pictures to the Hockey Hall of Fame to see if they knew, but I’m afraid nobody could identify them.” Yep, Johnny Bower, four time Stanley Cup winner and Honoured Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame actually got in his car and drove downtown to try to satisfy a fan’s request.
Our third and final meeting was brief. It was at Comerica Park in Detroit at the Alumni Game on New Year’s Eve, 2013. He was being driven across the field in a golf cart, and when I realised who it was, I waved. He returned the wave and motioned for the driver to stop. We shook hands, he smiled that smile, we spoke for a minute, and then he was on his way again. The king of the poke check had more fans to greet. And that was okay with me.