Hockey lost another legend on Tuesday when Johnny Bower passed away at age 93. Bower was one of the greatest goalies during the NHL’s Original Six Era. He was also one of the greatest minor league netminders, too. Bower spent 12 years in the NHL and another 12 in the AHL, and didn’t retire until he was 45. Thus, he had accomplished careers in the best and second-best hockey leagues.
Here we take a look back at the career of the “China Wall,” illustrated with his hockey cards. from the 1950s and 1960s.
1945-46 to 1952-53 – Minor-League Great
Bower spent eight seasons with the Cleveland Barons. He led the Barons to three Calder Cup Championships in 1948, 1951 and 1953. He also was named the AHL’s top goaltender in 1952.
1953-54 – The 29-Year Old Rookie
The New York Rangers made Bower their goalie for the 1953-54 season. He played in every minute of all 70 games for the Rangers that season. Bower’s rookie card (pictured above) appeared next season in the 1954-55 Parkhurst set.
1954-55 to 1957-58 – Back in the Minors
The next four seasons, Bower only saw spot duty with the Rangers, spending most of his time in the minors. He was named the Western League’s best goalie for the 1954-55 season. Bower spent the next three seasons in the AHL, and was named the AHL’s best goalie in 1957 and 1958. He also won the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL’s best player in 1956, 1957 and 1958. Surely, a player this good couldn’t remain in the American League for much longer.
1958-59 – The Start of a Hall of Fame Career
Bower got a second shot in the NHL when the Toronto Maple Leafs claimed him from the Cleveland Barons in the 1958 Inter-League Draft. He played in 39 games, re-establishing himself as an NHL regular.
1959-60 – Number One Again
In Bower’s second full season with the Leafs, he played in 66 of 70 games, posted a 2.68 goals-against average and recorded a career-high five shutouts. Six years after his debut with the Rangers, Bower was back to being a number one goalie on an NHL team.
1960-61 – The NHL’s Best Goalie
Bower won the Vezina Trophy as the goalie who allowed the fewest goals in the NHL, with a GAA of 2.50. He was also named a First-Team All-Star.
1961-62 – Stanley Cup Winner
Bower continued as the Leafs’ number one goalie was a big part of the team’s Stanley Cup Championship in 1962.
1962-63 – Stanley Cup Repeat
Bower and the Leafs finished first in the NHL during the regular season, and won the Stanley Cup again in 1963. He played in all 10 playoff games for Toronto, posting a 1.60 GAA. Had the NHL awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP back then, Bower arguably could have won that award, too.
1963-64 – Stanley Cup Three-Peat
Bower and the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup for a third season in a row in 1963-64. He tied his career-best with five shutouts during the regular season.
1964-65 – The NHL’s Best Goalie, Again
The Maple Leafs brought in Terry Sawchuk in 1964-65, who split games with Bower that season. The two combined for the best goals-allowed average in the NHL, and were co-winners of the Vezina Trophy. During the season, Bower turned 40.
1965-66 – Still the Top Leaf Backstop
Bower started the majority of the games for the Leafs, posted a 2.25 GAA and recorded three shutouts.
1966-67 – A Fourth Sip from Stanley
Although Sawchuk played more games than Bower during the regular season and in the playoffs, the Bower-Sawchuk tandem led the Leafs to a Stanley Cup Championship in 1967; this was Bower’s fourth Stanley Cup.
1967-68 – Going Strong at 43
Bower played 42 regular-season games, recorded four shutouts and finished second in the league with a 2.25 GAA.
1968-69 – His Last Season
In Bower’s last full season in the NHL, he recorded two shutouts and settled into a role as the Leafs’ backup goalie.
1969-70 – One Last Game
Bower played in one game, then retired midway through the 1969-70 season at the age of 45. He accrued 250 regular season wins, 35 playoff wins, 37 regular season shutouts and five playoff shutouts. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976 and the American Hockey League Hall of Fame in 2006. ■
Special thanks to Hockey Media, who provided many of the images for this article.
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.