Sud­bury’s Bowen called to Hall’s broad­cast wing


In the course of call­ing close to 3,200 games in about 60 old and new NHL rinks, Sud­bury na­tive 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 on Mon­day, but with no Leafs ad­mit­ted this year and both Fri­day’s Hall Of Fame Game and cer­e­mony hap­pen­ing here, he has been nudged into the spot­light. “The past few days have been so grat­i­fy­ing,” Bowen said ahead of the Leafs-Devils game. “So many peo­ple hav­ing been com­ing up to of­fer con­grat­u­la­tions and say ‘I’ve lis­tened to you since I was a kid’.

“I’ve got­ten calls from long-time friends such as Joel Quen­neville, Mike Kitchen, peo­ple from the Leafs, from Sud­bury (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 GTA. “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 Chicago Sta­dium. Hired so late that sum­mer by Leaf flag­ship 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 Leaf 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 Leaf booth by the late Blues’ GM 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 Leaf play­ers were badly in­jured, traded or ar­rested.

Work­ing ra­dio and TV, he’s seen the worst, mostly in the ‘80s, and three sep­a­rate res­ur­rec­tions un­der coaches Pat Burns, Pat Quinn and now un­der Mike Bab­cock. He’s bel­lowed 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 Gar­dens’ clos­ing and the Air Canada Cen­tre open­ing its doors be­fore re-chris­tened SBA.

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-year-old, 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, Dr. Joe Bowen 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 says his par­ents’ Leaf loy­alty will be run­ning through his mind that night, what­ever comes out of his mouth.

Thanks to the power of the Leafs and in­fa­mous Toronto traf­fic jams, Leafs games on ra­dio re­main pop­u­lar and that has kept Joe Bowen part of two gen­er­a­tions of fans.

“He’s the Voice of the Leafs, a clas­sic,” said winger Zach Hy­man, one of many GTA-born Leafs.

“For my fam­ily, grow­ing up with the Leafs on Sat­ur­day night, they were al­ways con­nected with Joe,” said winger Con­nor Brown. “He’s meant a lot of the city and done a great job for many years. I’ve got to know him, too, the past cou­ple of years and he’s a even bet­ter per­son.”

Hy­man re­called Bowen de­scrib­ing Mats Sundin’s 500th goal in a 2006 game against Cal­gary.

“Short-handed, game win­ning in over­time. That was one I most re­mem­ber. And since I’ve played here, it has to be the one in 2017 where we needed to win to make the play­offs (af­ter four years out) and Cur­tis McEl­hin­ney made that huge save. We’re play­ing Pitts­burgh and Brownie scored with about three min­utes to go to put us ahead, Crosby had a one timer with an empty net and there was Joe’s “Holy McEl­hin­ney!” mo­ment. We all got a kick out of him say­ing that.

Brown re­mem­bered that night, too.

“That was my rookie sea­son and my goal was go­ing to put us in the play­offs. He said “the lit­tle lep­rechaun found the pot of gold!”. I thought that was pretty funny. He loves the Ir­ish con­nec­tions.”


Sud­bury na­tive Joe Bowen is join­ing the Hall of Fame’s broad­cast­ing wing as re­cip­i­ent of the Foster He­witt Award.


Colour an­a­lyst Jim Ralph and playby-play man Joe Bowen are the voices of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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