Hockey royalty recently paid tribute to legendary Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Johnny Bower.
Bower, 93, died Dec. 26 following a short battle with pneumonia. An Air Canada Centre “celebration of life” was attended by hockey greats Frank Mahovlich, Dave Keon, Daryll Sittler, Doug Gilmour, Red Kelly and Yvan Cournoyer. Leafs coach Mike Babcock and the entire present day team also attended.
The event was nationally televised and many highlights of Bower’s career were revisited. He played on four Stanley Cup winners with the Leafs, he won the coveted Vezina Trophy on two occasions and he played in four NHL all-star games. Bower retired from hockey, just one game into the 1969-70 season, at 45 years old.
In 1976, Bower was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s a remarkable story considering that up until age 29, Bower had spent his entire career in the minor leagues. In 1953-54, he debuted in the NHL playing 70 games for New York Rangers. New York chose to go with Gump Worsley the next season and Bower was returned to the minor leagues where he remained for four seasons.
Arriving in Toronto in 1958 at age 34, greatness was in the cards for the Albert, Sask., native.
After retiring from hockey, Bower was both a scout and a goaltender coach for the Maple Leafs. He also appeared hundreds of times for charity events in the Toronto area and across Canada. In recent years he’s been in big demand at hockey card signings.
“The first time I met Johnny Bower was about 15 years ago at a hockey card show at the Halifax Forum,” said Tom Guinan, 74, of Truro. “After the show and card signing I had my photo taken with Johnny and we talked for awhile.”
Guinan, a former 39-year employee of Lafarge Canada Cement in Brookfield, had no idea a special friendship would follow.
“As we talked about hockey and goaltending, I told Johnny about my grandfather, Tom Guinan, playing goal for the Maritime champion Truro Bearcats in 1925 and 1926. That’s really how our friendship took off; Johnny asked me if I had any write-ups on my grandfather’s hockey which I could mail to him in Mississauga, Ont.”
Bower gave Guinan his mailing address.
“I threw a few things in an envelope – photo copies of pictures and articles – and I mailed them to Johnny. It wasn’t long and a nice card and letter arrived in the mail. Johnny thanked me and he wrote that he really enjoyed the old hockey history. He enclosed his telephone number and told me to feel free to call him at any time.”
Over the years the Bower-Guinan friendship grew and they would talk on an average of twice a month.
“Johnny always sent me a nice Christmas card; I would send him one as well. Johnny gave me a lot of photos over the years; one of my favourites is an autographed one of when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. I have it in a nice frame.”
As Guinan showed me photos, cards and keepsakes, he held up a special sketch.
“Johnny had never seen such a sketch so I mailed it up to him. He signed it and then mailed it back. He told me I was the only person to own such an autographed sketch, that it was the only one in existence he had ever signed. We both laughed.”
Through Guinan, Bower learned about outstanding Truro hockey prospect Jared McIsaac who plays for Halifax Mooseheads.
“I sent Johnny pictures and write-ups, he was very interested. Johnny told me he talked to the Toronto scouts about Jared.”
John Guinan, Tom’s cousin, spoke of the unique friendship.
“It was a pretty special relationship even though they were 1,800 miles apart,”
John said. “It’s a testament of the human being Johnny Bower was. I said, gosh Tom, you were really fortunate to have become friends with a true Canadian icon.”
Tom described it as quite a shock when he and his wife Mary learned of Johnny Bowers’s passing while watching television Dec. 27.
“I didn’t even realize he was sick,” Tom said. “I couldn’t believe I had lost my old buddy Johnny. He was so humble, he was such a nice man; I’m going to miss
Johnny a lot.”
Lyle Carter’s column appears every second Tuesday in the Truro Daily News. If you have a column idea, contact him at 902 673-2857.