NHL Hockey player Johnny Bower was fantastic and a great member of the Hockey Hall of Fame
“It's not necessarily the amount of time you spend at practice that counts; it's what you put into the practice.”Eric Lindros
This page is dedicated to NHL Hockey player Johnny Bower.
They called him “the China Wall” but the reason for it is not exactly known.
His life in the NHL was a far cry from life as a professional hockey player of today. But Johnny Bower was as tough as they come and had a career in the NHL that leveraged him into the NHL Hall of Fame.
Johnny was born in rural Saskatchewan to a poor family. One of nine children. He Didn’t have any money to proper equipment so he had to improvise. He found and old mattress and managed to make goalie pads from it. His pucks, not the rubber ones we see
In 1940, at the ripe old age of 15 he lied about his age and enlisted in the Canadian army and after basic training was sent overseas to fight in the second world war. After four years he took sick and was sent home and discharged. Back home in Prince Albert he resumed his career playing junior hockey.
All together Johnny played 14 years in the minors. He won the Les Cunningham award as the best player in the AHL three times. By the way, he also won the Hap Holmes award as the best goalie three times. An amazing record.
During the Inter league draft in mid 1958 he was claimed from Cleveland but didn’t want to go to the Leafs. They had finished in last place the past season. It took the threat of suspension to finally get him to agree to come and try out. That fall, at training camp, he established himself as the team’s number one goalie.
At the age of 34 today, most players are preparing to retire from the NHL and let the youngsters wear their bodies out. But Johnny’s career as an NHL hockey player was going the opposite way. He played for 12 more years. He retired in 1970 as the oldest goalie ever to play in the NHL. He was 45 years of age.
He then worked with the Leafs as a scout and later as a goalie coach for many years.
During his NHL playing days, the league consisted of only 6 teams. Each had goalies who were fearless. They played without a mask. The danger of being hit or cut by flying pucks and skates was ever present. Johnny was famous for coming out of his net to dive and poke check the puck from advancing players. He suffered innumerable cuts because of this. He lost nearly every tooth in his mouth.
Amazingly, all players suffered cuts of all types during games. They would leave the ice trailing blood everywhere and five minutes later, after receiving stitches by the team doctor, would be back in play.
As a youngster I remember the late great Foster Hewitt broadcasting games from Toronto (before television) and hearing the excitement of the crowd as the great Johnny Bower did it to them again.