|Born||John William Kiszkan
November 8, 1924
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada
|Died||December 26, 2017
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Ice hockey career
||First Canadian Army|
|Years of service||1940–1943|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
John William Bower (born John William Kiszkan; November 8, 1924 – December 26, 2017), nicknamed "The China Wall", was a Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender who won four Stanley Cups during his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs. On January 1, 2017, in a ceremony prior to the Centennial Classic, he was named one of the "100 Greatest NHL Players" in history.
Bower was born John William Kiszkan into a Ukrainian Canadian family in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, to Johnny Kiszkan, a labourer, and his wife, Betty. He had one brother and seven sisters. He taught himself how to play hockey, using a branch as a stick, and made himself goalie pads out of old mattresses. When he was 15, he lied about his age and enlisted in the Canadian Army during World War II, where he was stationed in England as a gunner with the 2nd Canadian Division from 1940 to 1943. His service ended when he was discharged due to rheumatoid arthritis in his hands.
After his discharge, Kiszkan returned to Prince Albert in 1944 to play junior hockey there. In 1945, he turned professional and moved to the American Hockey League (AHL), where he spent 11 seasons playing mostly for the Cleveland Barons in the late 1940s and 1950s.
Kiszkan began to use his mother's maiden name, Bower, after his parents divorced in 1946. He legally changed his surname during his first year of professional hockey, because sports writers often had trouble spelling "Kiszkan".
Bower was picked up by the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League (NHL) for the 1953–54 season. At the age of 29, Bower made his NHL debut, and the team made him their starting goaltender over the previous season's rookie of the year winner Gump Worsley. Bower played in every game that season, recording 29 wins. The following season Worlsey won back the starting job for the Rangers, and Bower was returned to the minor leagues. He played here for four more years across three different teams; the Providence Reds (1945–46, 1955–56 and 1956–57), Vancouver Canucks (1954–55) and Cleveland Barons (1945–53 to 1957–58). Bower would briefly play for the Rangers again in 1954–55 and 1956–57, before being claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1958 Inter-League Draft.
Despite being claimed by Toronto, Bower intended to stay with the Barons, as he was tired of moving all over the country. When the Leafs hired Punch Imlach, he visited Bower, and convinced him to give the NHL one more try, and became a strong supporter of his during his time with the Leafs, calling him "the most remarkable — and maybe the best — athlete in the world." The Leafs at this time were an up-and-coming team of young star players, and after Imlach traded for Red Kelly, the Leafs were ready for contention.
Bower won his first Vezina Trophy in 1961 for leading the Leafs to the lowest goals allowed in the 1960-61 season. The height of his NHL career came during the Maple Leafs' three consecutive Stanley Cup victories in the early 1960s: 1961–62, 1962–63, and 1963–64. He later said, "When we won the Stanley Cup, my head went numb, my whole body went numb. That was my dream from Day One. You just can't explain the feelings inside you."
Bower's career would be hampered by poor eyesight, but despite that he remained a top-tier goaltender. He was known for his hard-nosed, scrappy playing style and would win another Stanley Cup in 1967 in tandem with another Hall of Famer, Terry Sawchuk. He claimed, "I wasn't all that glad to see the two-goalie system come in. I wanted to play as many games as I could." Bower and Sawchuk shared the Vezina Trophy when the Leafs allowed the fewest goals in the NHL in 1964–65. On April 22, 1967, in the second game of the Stanley Cup Finals, he shut out the Montreal Canadiens for his fifth (and final) career playoff shutout — four of them against the Canadiens. In the third game of the Stanley Cup Finals, on April 25, 1967, and in his last Stanley Cup Finals appearance, he became the second-oldest goalie to play in the Finals at the age of 42 years, 5 months, 17 days (Lester Patrick holds that record). The Leafs won in double overtime when Bob Pulford scored.
On April 6, 1969, at the age of 44 years, 4 months, and 29 days, Bower became the oldest goaltender to play in a Stanley Cup playoff game. His last full season was 1968–69. He played his final game on December 10, 1969, a 6–3 loss to Montreal; mainly due to injuries, this was his only game of the 1969–70 season. At the time, he was the oldest full-time player ever to participate in an NHL game, and remains the second-oldest goaltender (45 years, 1 month, 2 days), behind only Maurice Roberts; he was surpassed as oldest full-time player by Gordie Howe, Chris Chelios, and Jaromír Jágr.
On March 19, 1970, Bower publicly announced his official retirement — four months after his 45th birthday. He played 11 full seasons in all with the Leafs. When asked, in light of his retirement, if he might reveal his true age, he replied "If you don't know by now, you never will". Once in his playing career coach Imlach had told Bower, after seeing a purported birth certificate, “If you were born in this day here that you’re telling me, you had to be overseas with the First Division, in 1939, when you were 13." Bower eventually revealed his birth date as November 8, 1924.
Post-retirement and death
Bower worked for the Maple Leafs after his retirement in various capacities, including as a scout and a goalie coach. He was assistant coach for the Leafs from 1976–78. He retired from the organization in 1990, but continued to make public appearances on behalf of the organization for the rest of his life.
Bower was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976, and the AHL Hall of Fame as a member of its inaugural class in 2006. In 1998, he was ranked number 87 on The Hockey News' list of the 100 Greatest NHL Players. He was inducted into the Etobicoke Sports Hall of Fame in 1994, and into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1999. He was married to wife Nancy with a son, two daughters, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, and previously resided in Mississauga, Ontario.
In January 2004, Bower was featured on a postage stamp. As part of the NHL All-Stars Collection, he was immortalized along with five other All-Stars. In 2005, the Royal Canadian Mint featured Bower on a non-circulating fifty-cent coin, as part of its four-coin Legends of the Toronto Maple Leafs coin set. In 2007, it was announced that Bower would receive a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.
On May 24, 2014, Bower attended a street renaming ceremony in Weston in Toronto, where he once lived for many years. Patika Avenue was ceremonially renamed Johnny Bower Boulevard to honour him for the time during the 1960s when he lived at 16 Patika Avenue. He proudly stated "It’s a great day for me and my family...this is a better ovation than I used to get at Maple Leaf Gardens."
Bower was once again immortalized on September 6, 2014, when the Leafs unveiled him, alongside Darryl Sittler, as two of the first three inductees of Legends Row (Ted Kennedy was the first, announced some months earlier), with statues outside Air Canada Centre depicting twelve of the greatest players in Maple Leafs history.
On December 26, 2017, Bower died at the age of 93 from pneumonia. In the days following Bower's death, multiple teams, including the Maple Leafs, Jets, Coyotes, and Toronto Raptors of the NBA honoured Bower with pre-game tributes. On January 3, the Maple Leafs hosted a public celebration of Bower's life at the Air Canada Centre. Thousands attended the event, including various former NHL alumni, the current Maple Leafs team and other major figures. The memorial was televised across multiple channels in Canada, and in accordance with the event, Toronto Mayor John Tory declared January 3 to be "Johnny Bower Day" in the city of Toronto. For the remainder of the 2017–18 season, the Maple Leafs will wear patches on their jerseys and helmets in honour of Bower.
Bower was the first goaltender to effectively employ the poke check, an aggressive move wherein the goalie uses his stick to poke the puck away from an attacking player, sometimes leaving his crease in the process. This move has since been imitated by goaltenders across all levels of hockey.
Awards and honours
- Three-time Hap Holmes Memorial Award: 1952, 1957, 1958
- Two-time Vezina Trophy winner in 1960–61, 1964–65
- Four-time Stanley Cup winner: 1961–62, 1962–63, 1963–64, 1966–67
- Selected to NHL First All-Star Team in 1961
- Played in 1961 NHL All-Star Game
- Three-time Les Cunningham Award winner: 1956, 1957, 1958
- Three-time Calder Cup winner: 1948, 1951, 1953
- The Hockey News' list of the Top 100 NHL Players of All Time: #87
- Hockey Hall of Fame inductee (class of 1976)
- AHL Hall of Fame inductee (class of 2006)
- Star on Canada's Walk of Fame
- Number (1) retired by the Cleveland Monsters (for his career with the Cleveland Barons)
- Number (1) retired by the Toronto Maple Leafs (alongside Turk Broda)
- In January 2017, Bower was part of the first group of players to be named one of the '100 Greatest NHL Players' in history.
Regular season and playoff statistics.
|1944–45||Prince Albert Black Hawks||SJHL||10||5||4||1||630||27||0||2.57||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|1944–45||Prince Albert Black Hawks||M-Cup||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||3||0||3||180||23||0||7.67||—|
|1953–54||New York Rangers||NHL||70||29||31||10||4200||182||5||2.60||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|1954–55||New York Rangers||NHL||5||2||2||1||300||13||0||2.60||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|1956–57||New York Rangers||NHL||2||0||2||0||120||6||0||3.50||.882||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|1958–59||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||39||15||17||7||2340||106||3||2.74||.913||12||5||7||746||38||0||3.06||.906|
|1959–60||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||66||34||24||8||3960||177||5||2.68||.918||10||4||6||645||31||0||2.88||.916|
|1960–61||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||58||33||15||10||3480||145||2||2.50||.922||3||0||3||180||8||0||2.67||.911|
|1961–62||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||59||31||18||10||3540||151||2||2.58||.918||10||6||3||579||20||0||2.07||.927|
|1962–63||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||42||20||15||7||2520||109||1||2.62||.913||10||8||2||600||16||2||1.60||.949|
|1963–64||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||51||24||16||11||3009||106||5||2.11||.933||14||8||6||850||30||2||2.12||.930|
|1964–65||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||34||13||13||8||2040||81||3||2.38||.924||5||2||3||321||13||0||2.43||.916|
|1965–66||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||35||18||10||5||1998||75||3||2.25||.929||2||0||2||120||8||0||4.00||.893|
|1966–67||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||27||12||9||3||1431||63||2||2.64||.924||4||2||0||183||5||1||1.64||.957|
|1967–68||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||43||14||18||7||2329||84||4||2.25||.934||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|1968–69||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||20||5||4||3||779||37||2||2.85||.910||4||0||2||154||11||0||4.29||.888|
|1969–70||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||1||0||1||0||60||5||0||5.00||.868||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
- "Johnny Bower: A Goalie For All Ages". Greastest Hockey Legends. 21 January 2012.
- Woolsey, Garth (2008-12-14). "Winter reading for the hockey fan". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2007-12-14.
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- "Johnny Bower passes at 93, leaves behind generational legacy". InGoal. December 26, 2017.
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- Johnny Bower (1953-70)
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- Punch fired as Leafs Ousted The Montreal Gazette - April 7, 1969, page 21. Retrieved 2010-08-16
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- Johnny Bower: A Goalie For All Ages, February 16, 2009
- "Hockey Reference: Johnny Bower". hockey-reference.com. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
- "AHL Hall of Fame: Goaltending Wins". ahlhalloffame.com. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
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- "Johnny Bower". oshof.ca. Retrieved 24 September 2014.
- Canada's Stamp Details, January to March 2004, Volume XIII, No. 1
- The Charlton Standard Catalogue of Canadian Coins, 61st Edition, p.209, W.K. Cross, Editor, 2007, The Charlton Press, Toronto, Ontario, ISBN 0-88968-315-8
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- "Jets Salute Johnny Bower". NHL.com. December 27, 2017. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
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- "1961 NHL All-Star Game Rosters". hockey-reference.com. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
- "Les Cunningham Award". AHL Hall of Fame. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
- "Calder Cup Champions: The Players". AHL Hall of Fame. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
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- "Johnny Bower's stats". The Goaltender Home Page. Retrieved 2017-08-05.
- Biographical information and career statistics from NHL.com, or Eliteprospects.com, or Hockey-Reference.com, or Legends of Hockey, or The Internet Hockey Database
- Age never got in Bower's way
- AHL Hall of Fame bio
|Winner of the Vezina Trophy
|Winner of the Vezina Trophy
with Terry Sawchuk
and Charlie Hodge