Johnny Bower, 1924-2017

Johnny Bower as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs in this undated photo. NHL/NHL.com

Remembered as the consummate team player always willing to go the extra mile, Prince Albert native and Toronto Maple Leafs legend Johnny Bower died of pneumonia on Tuesday at 93 years old.

Born on Nov. 8, 1924 in Prince Albert as John Kiszkan, Bower played his junior hockey – always as a goalie – in the north Saskatchewan city with the Black Hawks of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

After serving with the Canadian military during the Second World War, Bower resumed his hockey career in 1944 with the P.A. club. He then spent the next 12 years backstopping American Hockey League teams (primarily the Cleveland Barons) and one NHL team (the New York Rangers), before landing a full-time NHL gig with the Leafs during 1958-59 season.

That was the first of a 12-year pro hockey stint he spent entirely with the Toronto club, highlighted by the its magical, 1960s Stanley Cup championship run: His steady play helped the team to its four most recent Cup championships in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967.

Bower retired from the NHL in 1970.

An elderly Johnny Bower stands next to a display case honouring his achievements with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto Maple Leafs Alumni/Twitter

On Tuesday, Maple Leafs president and former NHL forward Brendan Shanahan released a statement on Bower’s death.

“The entire Toronto Maple Leaf organization is deeply saddened following the passing of Johnny Bower.

“(He) was beloved by so many for much more than his Hall of Fame credentials as a player. It was his generosity of spirit, kindness and passion for people that made him a legend at life,” Shanahan said.

“The Toronto Maple Leafs, and our fans, are deeply indebted to Johnny for all that he gave to us, and taught us over the years. We will miss him dearly, but we know that his presence will forever be felt by our Club and our city.

“Our deepest sympathies and gratitude go to (Bower’s wife) Nancy, their children and the entire Bower family for sharing their husband, father and grandfather with us for so many years.

“There may not be a more loved Toronto Maple Leaf nor a former player who loved them as much back,” the Leafs president said of his senior.

Much like Shanahan alluded to in his statement, Bower was remembered on Tuesday and Wednesday for his off-ice generosity and willingness to contribute to other players’ success.

Toronto Maple Leafs great Ron Ellis spoke about his former teammate, Johnny Bower, shortly before unveiling the goaltender’s retired number banner at the Art Hauser Centre in March 2017. Herald File Photo

Former players, current players, broadcasters and journalists posted their sentiments on Twitter to pay their respects to the late goalie.

One particularly touching note was from current Toronto Marlies goalie Garret Sparks, who’s now in his sixth season with the Leafs’ AHL affiliate club.

Tuesday evening, Sparks wrote on Twitter that he “met Johnny Bower before a game in the away room in Owen Sound, Ont.”

He says he shared with Bower his gratitude for being drafted by the same team the elder goalie had backstopped.

“I could see the excitement he had in his eyes for me, the love he had for this team and it’s (sic) fans and the gratitude he had for the game and the opportunities it afforded him,” Sparks said.

“I will never forget that encounter, the night a true legend made me believe that me, some kid from Chicago could be a part of the future. He personified the spirit of a true competitor, someone fueled by the pure love of representing something bigger than himself, the game and team he loved.”

The American-born goalie praised Bower for the impact he left on goaltending, on hockey and on the Maple Leafs organization. “Nobody meant more and there will never be another. Condolences to his family, friends and millions of Leafs fans.”

The Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame inducted Bower in 1989. In June 1988, he was installed in the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame.

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