John William "Johnny" Bower (born John Kiszkan) on November 8, 1924 in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan - Died December 26, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario was a Canadian goaltender, scout and goalie coach.
Bower grew up dirt poor and never had the proper equipment. He made his goalie pads from an old mattress, made pucks from horse manure, his dad would look for suitably crooked tree branches to shave into Hockey sticks, a friend gave him his first pair of skates because his father couldn't afford to buy him a pair and yet he still refined his game to become one of the best goalies of all time.
Bower later served with the Canadian Army (Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders) during World War II in England from 1940 to 1943 and was discharged due to rheumatoid arthritis.
Bower returned to Saskatchewan and resumed his Hockey playing with the Prince Albert Black Hawks until 1945.
Bower turned pro with the American Hockey League / AHL Cleveland Barons to start the 1945-46 season, he changed his name from Kiszkan to Bower, to make it easier for sports writers.
Bower Played eight full seasons for Cleveland, winning 3 AHL Calder Cup championships in 1948 (back-up goalie), 1951 and 1953.
In 1953-54, Bower played the entire season for the New York Rangers, Winning 29 games, but then spent most of the next four seasons right back in the minors, having lost the starting job in New York to Gump Worsley. Bower played for the WHL Vancouver Canucks (1954-55), Providence Reds (1955-57) where he backstopped the Reds to the 1956 AHL Calder Cup championship, and back in Cleveland for the 1957-58 season.
During his 14 years in the minors, he won the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL's best player three times - 1956, 1957, 1958 and the Hap Holmes Memorial Award for top goaltender another three times - 1952, 1957, 1958.
Bower's big break came in the summer of 1958 when the Toronto Maple Leafs claimed him from Cleveland at the Intra-League Draft. Bower was reluctant to join the Maple Leafs, even though they had finished in last place the previous season, telling them he could be of no help to the team. It was only after being threatened with suspension that he showed up for training camp that fall, and within days, he had established himself as the team's number one goalie at age 34. He was to play a total of 12 seasons with the Maple Leafs and became a legend in Toronto.
Bower, like his other five Original Six brethren, became famous for his fearless play. Maskless, he never shied away from an attacking player and in fact patented the most dangerous move a goalie can make -- the poke-check. Diving head-first into the skates of an attacking player at full speed, Bower would routinely flick the puck off that player's stick and out of harm's way. One time, he got a skate in his cheek, knocking a tooth out through his cheek. He suffered innumerable cuts to his mouth and lips and lost virtually every tooth in his mouth from sticks and pucks, but almost to his last game, he never wore a mask. And under the confident eye of coach Punch Imlach, Bower got better and better. He led the Maple Leafs into the playoffs his first season with a miracle comeback ending to the schedule, and then lost two finals in a row before winning three consecutive Stanley Cup championships -- 1962, 1963 and 1964.
After the 1962 victory, Bower complained about Bobby Hull, Chicago Black Hawks left-winger and his hard slap shot, improved from that of Montreal Canadiens right-wing Bernie Geoffrion. Bower said, "He needs another shot like I need a hole in the head, which I may get."
Bower was the Vezina Trophy winner in 1960–61.
His 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). Bower 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 Maple 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 has the record). The Maple 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 oldest goaltender (45 years, 1 month, 2 days).
On March 19, 1970, Bower publicly announced his official retirement — four months after his 45th birthday. 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". He subsequently revealed his birth date as November 8, 1924.
After he retired in 1970 as the oldest goalie ever to play in the NHL, Bower remained with the Maple Leafs for many years as a scout and then goalie coach, putting the pads on and helping Maple Leaf goalies in practice. At one injury-riddled time during the 1979-1980 season, he came within a whisker, at age 56, of dressing as the team's backup.
Bower's NHL regular season career statistics include: 552 games played, 250 wins, 195 losses, 90 ties, 37 shutouts and a 2.51 GAA. In addition, he remains the AHL career leader in wins.
Johnny Bower became a member of the Etobicoke Sports Hall of Fame in 1994.
Johnny Bower was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.
In 1998, Johnny Bower was ranked number 87 on The Hockey News' list of the 100 Greatest NHL Players.
In 2007, it was announced that Johnny Bower would receive a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.
On October 7, 2010, he opened the first game ever played of the regular season for the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre by walking out on an implied "bridge over water" with his goalie stick.
On May 24, 2014, Bower attended a street renaming ceremony in Weston Village in Toronto, where he once lived for many years. Patika Avenue was ceremonially renamed Johnny Bower Boulevard to honour Bower for the time during the 1960s when he lived at 16 Patika Avenue. Local barber, Peter Kalamaris of World Famous Peter's Barber Shop, collected close to 500 signatures to support this initiative. Bower 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." After the street sign unveiling, hundreds of fans lined up at the barber shop to get their picture taken with Bower and the Vezina Trophy.
Bower was once again immortalized on September 6, 2014, when the Maple 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.
Johnny Bower was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976.
Johnny Bower was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in 2006.
Number 1 Jersey retired by the Cleveland Monsters (for his career with the Cleveland Barons).
Number 1 Jersey retired by the Toronto Maple Leafs (alongside Turk Broda).
On January 1, 2017, in a ceremony prior to the Centennial Classic, Bower was part of the first group of players to be named one of the '100 Greatest NHL Players' in history.