Bowen humbled by Hall honour
Play-by-play man is taking a place alongside the greats, but his biggest call is yet to come
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.
Joe Bowen began broadcasting Toronto Maple Leafs games in 1982 and passed the 3,000-game milestone last season.