From ‘Holy Mack­i­naw’ to Hall of Fame

Ottawa Citizen - - SPORTS - LANCE HORNBY lhornby@post­media.com

In the course of call­ing close to 3,200 games in about 60 old and new NHL rinks, Joe Bowen has talked up — and talked to — a lot of Hall of Fame play­ers.

This week­end, he gets to ex­pe­ri­ence a bit of their world when he joins the hall’s broad­cast­ing wing as re­cip­i­ent of the Foster He­witt Award. It was Bowen’s in­tent “not to clog up” the main event’s in­duc­tion of six play­ers and builders, but with no Maple Leafs ad­mit­ted this year and both Fri­day’s Hall of Fame Game and Mon­day’s cer­e­mony hap­pen­ing in Toronto, he has been nudged into the spot­light.

“The past few days have been so grat­i­fy­ing,” Bowen said Fri­day ahead of the Leafs-New Jersey Devils game. “So many peo­ple have been com­ing up to of­fer con­grat­u­la­tions and say, ‘I’ve lis­tened to you since I was a kid.’

“I’ve got­ten calls from long­time friends such as Joel Quen­neville, Mike Kitchen, peo­ple from the Leafs, from Sud­bury (in north­ern On­tario, where he was born and be­gan in the booth for the ju­nior Wolves). Some are com­ing to town this week­end from Hal­i­fax (where he was lured from a ra­dio sta­tion to join the Leafs in 1982), Notre Dame (as­so­ciate ath­letic di­rec­tor John Heisler is a pal) and all over the Toronto area.

“Now I know what it’s like for play­ers who come back here to play the Leafs and have to find ex­tra tick­ets for ev­ery­one.”

What mat­ters most to him is his four sons will be at his in­duc­tion cer­e­mony. His first Leaf game was Oct. 6, 1982, at the old Chicago Sta­dium. Hired so late that sum­mer by Leafs flag­ship ra­dio sta­tion CJCL in Toronto, there were no ex­hi­bi­tion games to ease his way in. His de­but was nearly scut­tled by a slow cab driver in the Windy City and a faulty con­nec­tion to the home sta­tion that was rec­ti­fied just sec­onds be­fore puck drop.

But from there, Bowen had a front seat to the wild Leafs era in which just about ev­ery­thing hap­pened ex­cept a Stan­ley Cup. Bowen sur­vived the surly Harold Bal­lard, many white-knuckle plane trips, a se­ries of un­pre­dictable colour an­a­lysts from Bill Wat­ters to Jim Ralph and a few brushes with get­ting fired.

There were the fight-filled (Chuck) Nor­ris Divi­sion games, late-game blown leads, 10-goal losses, icy mid-win­ter treks through Min­nesota and a chair thrown at the Leafs booth by the late Blues gen­eral man­ager Ron Caron. Bowen was con­scripted to carry Bal­lard’s girl­friend’s lug­gage and be­ing with them 24/7 meant late nights, early flights and trips where play­ers were badly in­jured, traded or ar­rested.

Work­ing ra­dio and TV, he has seen the worst, mostly in the ’80s, and three sep­a­rate res­ur­rec­tions un­der coaches Pat Burns, Pat Quinn and now Mike Bab­cock. He has bel­lowed about 50 goals by Rick Vaive, 500 by

Mats Sundin and four in Aus­ton Matthews’ de­but. There was Nik Borschevsky’s tip, Doug Gilmour’s wrap­around, waf­fles and sweaters thrown on the ice in dis­gust, the Maple Leaf Gar­dens’ clos­ing and the Air Canada Cen­tre open­ing its doors be­fore be­ing re-chris­tened as Sco­tia­bank Arena.

In this in­ter­net era, he could get a hello in the midst of a game from Scot­land to Sri Lanka, some­one with a Leaf sweater fol­low­ing him on a new-me­dia plat­form.

“It’s the best job in the world and all I do is tell peo­ple where the puck is,” said the 67-yearold, who just signed a five-year ex­ten­sion. “What I re­ally can’t get over is that I’m get­ting an award named for the guy whose chair I now sit in. Foster was an idol to so many.”

He­witt’s voice echoed through the Bowen home. His par­ents Joe Sr. and Edith stoked his love of hockey when he was just two weeks old.

“I’m told my mother sat me by the ra­dio to hear Bill Bar­ilko’s (1951 Cup-win­ning) over­time goal. It was my fa­ther who was al­ways say­ing ‘Holy Mack­i­naw!’ around the house in­stead of me hear­ing him swear.”

That be­came Bowen’s sig­na­ture for a goal or big save, though he’s yet to meld it to the Cup-clinch­ing count­down he hopes to re­cite one day in a mid-June broad­cast. Like many fans who’ve dreamed more than half a cen­tury for such an event, Bowen said his par­ents’ Leafs loy­alty will be run­ning through his mind that night, what­ever comes out of his mouth.

POST­MEDIA/FILES

Leafs an­nouncer Joe Bowen will be in­ducted Mon­day into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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