Once Upon a Time, When Hockey Was More of a Game than a Fight, the Toronto Maple Leafs Won Stanley Cups and Boasted a Roster of Sport Heroes like Johnny Bower

A Brief One by Doug Draper

Posted December 28th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

Legendary Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Johnny Bower

Way back in the 1960s, when the New York Yankees were a dominating force in the game of  baseball, here in Canada we had a team that was a dominating force in the game of hockey.

Believe it or not, that team was the Toronto Maple Leafs, and in the neighbourhood I grew up in in Niagara, Ontario and, I’m sure, in many other neighbourhoods across the country, almost every kid over the age of 10 knew every member of the Leafs by name. They were the heroes or villains of our time, depending on whether you were a Leaves fan or a fan of the Montreal Canadians or Chicago Black Hawks or one of the only other three teams that made up the National Hockey League at the time.

On the Leafs roster, that won not just one,  but four Stanley Cups during that time, there was Tim Horton and  Dave Keon and Red Kelly and Frank Mahovilich and George Armstrong and Bob Pulford and Eddie  Shack – and there was Johnny Bower, who died this past December 26th at the age of 93.

Johnny Bower played goalie at a time when goalies did not where masks and were much more of a human backboard for pucks flying their way at 100 or more kilometres an hour than they are today.

I remember NHL players like Eddie Shack and Johnny Bower visiting our town during the off-seasons for hockey to play in charity baseball games. We’d all line up for autographs and one of the things I recall the most is the web of scars on their faces where they had to be stitched up, which is why my mother would said no to my having anything to do with  minor hockey, and yes to baseball.

I still find it fascinating that America came up with a nice, pastural game like baseball, and Canada, which has so often prided itself as one of the pre-eminent peace-keeping nations in the world, came up with hockey, which is arguably more violent than American football and, in recent decades, can be  just as brutally violent as boxing when the inevitable fights break out.

I know it may make me seem much less a Canadian to some, but I turned off  hockey almost completely and never went back when the NHL expanded to a point where the talent pool for great players was so diluted that fighting  became the substitute for good plays. So much so that brawls on the ice rather than a video clip of a great goal would come to be what passed for news in the world of hockey on late-night sports casts.

There was a time though, when NHL hockey was more of a game than a fight, and the Toronto Maple Leafs won Stanley Cups with a roster of sports heroes like Johnny Bower.

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders



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