Bowen hum­bled by Hall hon­our

Play-by-play man is tak­ing a place along­side the greats, but his big­gest call is yet to come

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - KEVIN MC­GRAN SPORTS RE­PORTER

Be­ing the play-by-play voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs is not what Joe Bowen dreamed about when he was a kid.

“The job I wanted was Johnny Bower’s,” Bowen says of the late, great Maple Leafs goal­tender. “But I wasn’t good enough.”

But the boom­ing voice with the “Holy Mack­i­naw” sound­track, who stills plays pickup hockey in net, turns out to have made a pretty good ca­reer choice all those years ago. He caught the broad­cast­ing bug at the Univer­sity of Wind­sor and made a name for him­self call­ing games for the Sud­bury Wolves.

Bowen will be in­ducted into the me­dia wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame on Mon­day, along­side New York Post writer Larry Brooks. They’ll be there when goal­tender Martin Brodeur, winger Martin St. Louis, Rus­sian great Alexan­der Yaku­shev and Olympian Jayna Hef­ford go into the play­ers’ wing. NHL com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman and former Bos­ton Bruin Wil­lie O’Ree, who broke hockey’s colour bar­rier, will go into the builders’ wing.

The NHL Broad­cast­ers As­so­ci­a­tion hon­oured Bowen as the re­cip­i­ent of the Fos­ter He­witt Me­mo­rial Award. He­witt pi­o­neered hockey broad­cast­ing from the famed gon­dola at Maple Leaf Gar­dens.

“It’s very hum­bling,” Bowen said of his call to the Hall. “I feel it means more to me be­cause I’m win­ning an award of the man I lis­tened to as a kid, and I have sat in his chair for 37 years. And I’ve done more games than he did.”

In­deed, Bowen has worked more than 3,000 games, miss­ing only a hand­ful since de­but­ing on Leaf broad­casts in 1982 when Ron He­wat left the post.

“When I ar­rived in Toronto I would have paid them to do the games. Now I’ve lasted this long, so it’s nice.”

Fos­ter He­witt broad­cast ap­prox­i­mately 1,900, says Bowen. The NHL sched­ule was shorter back then and, in the early days, only one game a week was broad­cast — Satur­day evenings.

“I got to sit in his ac­tual chair once, at the old gon­dola at the Gar­dens. My first broad­cast there as a Wolves broad­caster,” said Bowen.

Oth­ers who have called Maple Leafs’ play-by-play ac­tion on the ra­dio side in­clude Peter Ma­her and Jiggs McDon­ald. Den­nis Beyak, who now does Win­nipeg Jets games, was Bowen’s backup on ra­dio when Bowen did tele­vised games.

“For us, and my gen­er­a­tion grow­ing up, the Leafs have been cor­re­lated with Joe,” Leafs for- ward Con­nor Brown said. “He’s meant a lot to this city. He’s done a great job. He’s an even bet­ter guy.”

Bowen’s sig­na­ture call for a big play is “Holy Mack­i­naw!” It’s a phrase he’d hear his fa­ther mut­ter from time to time.

“I would sit on his lap watch­ing Johnny Bower and he’d bel­low out: ‘Holy Mack­i­naw, what a save that was,’ ” said Bowen. “I never thought about it, I never got to ask about where he got it from. I never used it in ju­nior, I never used it in the Amer­i­can Hockey League.

“It was a game in Chicago. Bill Wat­ters was do­ing colour. Felix Potvin made a great save … I bel­lowed it out. I would never have used it again, ex­cept Bill was on the floor, laugh­ing. I thought, if I get a re­sponse like that out of him, I’m go­ing to use it.” Bowen has had some mem­o­rable calls:

“Bless you boys, what a game. Un­be­liev­able. In my very small way of be­ing part of this team, I don’t think I’ve ever been as proud in my en­tire life.” — af­ter the Leafs beat Ot­tawa 4-3 in Game 6 of the 2002 Eastern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nal.

“Don’t tell me about heart and ded­i­ca­tion and re­silience. This is un­be­liev­able.” — when Mats Sundin scored to tie Carolina in Game 6 of the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nal in 2002.

“Down goes Brown and Le­feb­vre leaves him there.” — Af­ter a 1992 fight be­tween Toronto’s Syl­vain Le­feb­vre and Chicago’s Rob Brown.

“Con­nor Brown, the lit­tle lep­rechaun, has found a pot of gold,” — On Con­nor Brown’s game-win­ning goal against Pitts­burgh that clinched a play­off spot in 2017. And Bowen has been around for some mem­o­rable mo­ments as well, such s Aus­ton Matthews’ four-goal de­but, Nik Borschevsky’s Game 7 over­time win­ner over Detroit in the first round of the 1993 play­offs, and Sundin’s 500th ca­reer goal, which he scored short-handed in over­time to com­plete a hat trick in 2006 against the vis­it­ing Cal­gary Flames.

“The one game I will never for­get — be­cause I play goal, my son plays goal, Ral­phie (colour com­men­ta­tor Jim Ralph) is a goalie, my dad was a goalie — was Gar­ret Sparks’ shutout his very first game (Nov. 30, 2015, 3-0 over Ed­mon­ton). I’ll never for­get that as long as I live. We were liv­ing vi­car­i­ously in his par­ents’ thoughts. And to see the emo­tional re­sponse we got from that. Be­ing a goalie’s par­ent, and to see your son do that the very first game? In­cred­i­ble.”

Some broad­cast­ers, en­vi­ably, have had big­ger mo­ments. Blue Jays play-by-play man Tom Cheek is prob­a­bly best re­mem­bered for his “Touch ’em all, Joe,” call on Joe Carter’s 1993 World Se­ries-win­ning home run.

So what does Bowen think his big­gest call is?

“Hasn’t hap­pened yet,” said Bowen.

“I have had lots of mem­o­rable games. But I haven’t had a crown­ing mo­ment yet. I don’t know what I’ll say when it hap­pens if it hap­pens on my watch.

“But I’m look­ing for­ward to that.”

Toronto Maple Leafs play-by-play man Joe Bowen has been hon­oured by his peers with the Fos­ter He­witt Me­mo­rial Award.

RICHARD LAUT­ENS TORONTO STAR

Joe Bowen be­gan broad­cast­ing Toronto Maple Leafs games in 1982 and passed the 3,000-game mile­stone last sea­son.

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