TORONTO (Jan. 2) — Joe Bowen should have bought a Lotto–Max ticket on Monday.
The already filthy–rich voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs would have easily won the jackpot, adding to the multi–millions he has stashed away for generations of little Bowensies while at the microphone in Maple Leaf Gardens and the Air Canada Centre since 1982. In fact, Joe could have retired on New Year’s Day at the magical age of 65, though he claims he’ll not step aside until the Leafs end their Stanley Cup drought. Given that no person has called a hockey game while 112 years old, it will be a groundbreaking accomplishment.
The first day of 2017 was nearly perfect for Bowen. Late in the afternoon, while nearly scaring him half–to–death by coughing up another third–period lead, the Maple Leafs knocked off Detroit in the Centennial Classic outdoor game at BMO Field. The Mo–Towners came close to ruining the day for Joe, and countless more in hockey’s biggest nation of hopefuls. A three–goal Toronto edge evaporated in the final 6:06 of regulation — the Red Wings scoring at 13:54, 18:14 and 19:58 (oy vey!) to send the match into overtime. But, Clark Kent (or, Auston Matthews) came to the rescue, notching his second of the game and 20th of the season (tops among National Hockey League rookies) for a 5–4 win; the Maple Leafs fifth in succession.
Not since a 10–1–1 eruption in November and December, 2014, has Leafdom been so giddy.
Several hours later, having repaired to the Real Sports Bar & Grill across from the Air Canada Centre, Bowensy watched with pride as Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers — his beloved National Football League team since boyhood — conquered the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in the final game of the regular season to claim the NFC North title. Taking no chances, Joe had worn his Packers toque (as seen below, next to long–time broadcast partner Jim Ralph) while calling the Maple Leafs–Red Wings game at the CNE.
“Yeah, the day went pretty well, I’ll say that much,” Bowen confirmed to me on the phone after a gym workout. “It was really quite a spectacle at BMO Field and the Leafs looked to be in great shape as the clock wound down. The Matt Martin fight (against Steve Ott at 3:25 of the third period) really electrified the stadium and turned the game around. At that point, it was a 1–1 tie and the crowd was sort of like what we see at the Air Canada Centre — quietly waiting for something to happen. After the fight, the noise went through the roof and the team responded [with three goals]. Then, they replayed that old movie.”
The film Bowen referred to, of course, was the third–period meltdown that enabled Detroit to gain a point in the standings. Though the Leafs have graduated well beyond the worst–team–in–the–league category, they have little concept of nursing an advantage late in games. This particular debacle had the potential to become cataclysmic, given the unique environment and circumstance. An overtime or shootout loss in the outdoor game — telecast live across Canada by Sportsnet and in the United States by the NBC Sports Network — may have damaged the psyche of the youthful, swaggering club. Instead, Matthews scored on a backhand shot at 3:40 of the extra frame to salvage the day. “It was interesting to see Mike Babcock go with the rookies to protect the lead rather than veteran players like [Tyler] Bozak or [Leo] Komarov, but I suppose it’s the only way the young fellows will learn — through failure and experience,” said Bowen.
Joe was entering his fourth season with the Leafs when Wendel Clark debuted in 1985–86. Clark was the last Toronto player before Matthews to be chosen No. 1 in the NHL draft and he, too, made an immediate impact. “But, there isn’t much of a comparison between the two,” Bowen offered. “To me, Matthews looks more like Phil Esposito. In fact, I told Espo that in Tampa last week (the Hall–of–Fame center is the Lightning radio analyst). I said, ‘Phil, the kid reminds me of you, except he can skate.’ That didn’t go over particularly well (Bowen laughs), but it’s true. Just like Phil back in the 70’s, Auston is able to wiggle free near the net and make himself a big target. Most of his goals have been scored from close in. Like 90 percent of Phil’s.”
AUSTON MATTHEWS REMINDS JOE BOWEN OF FORMER BOSTON GOAL–HOUND PHIL ESPOSITO.
Bowen’s second love in sports is a tie between the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and the Green Bay Packers. He has, on several occasions, made the pilgrimage to South Bend, Indiana… and to Lambeau Field. “Growing up in Sudbury [Ontario], we got one [NFL] game on TV each week — and it was usually involving the Packers,” Joe recalled. “That was during the Vince Lombardi era (through much of the 60’s) when the team was a perennial champion. So, it was easy to become a fan. After the Maple Leafs–Red Wings tilt on Sunday, I went over to Real Sports with my sons. We watched the Packers do the usual thing to Detroit and win their division again. Sat with Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner’s parents. It was a fun night.”
As in numerous years with the Leafs, Bowen remembers suffering like a dog while rooting for the Packers. “The continuity from one icon to another at quarterback [Brett Favre to Rodgers] is amazing when you consider how bad Green Bay was through the 70’s and 80’s,” Joe said. “We had guys like John Hadl, Lynn Dickey, Randy Wright. One disaster after another. The ‘Magic Man’ [Don Majkowski] was pretty good [in the late–80’s] until he broke his leg. But, to have Favre and Rogers from 1991 to this day is truly remarkable.”
AARON RODGERS AND THE GREEN BAY PACKERS PREVAILED IN A WINNER–TAKE–ALL MATCH FOR THE NFC NORTH TITLE IN DETROIT ON SUNDAY NIGHT. THE PACK WILL HOST THE NEW YORK GIANTS IN A WILD CARD GAME NEXT SUNDAY, WHILE THE LIONS PLAY AT SEATTLE ON SATURDAY. NBC IMAGES
The Leafs, meanwhile, have vaulted into legitimate playoff contention with their five–game win streak. Prior to action on Monday, Toronto trailed Ottawa and Boston by a mere three points for second and third place, respectively, in the NHL’s Atlantic Division. The top three teams in each of the four divisions qualify for the post–season, along with two Wild Cards per Conference. As of Tuesday, the Leafs were four points behind Philadelphia for the second Wild Card in the East, with Tampa Bay three points in back of the Flyers.
Toronto plays at Washington on Tuesday night.
THE FRONT PAGE OF MONDAY’S TORONTO STAR.
FOOTBALL ODDITY: As if it weren’t miserable enough for Buffalo on Sunday afternoon while getting clobbered in its NFL season finale, 30–10, by the New York Jets, the Bills “accomplished” something miraculous at MetLife Stadium. With 3:21 left in the game, Buffalo gave up 10 points in zero seconds. First came a 25–yard field goal by Nick Folk at 11:39 of the fourth quarter. The ensuing kickoff by Folk bounced untouched into the Buffalo end zone, whereupon safety Doug Middleton fell on the ball for a New York touchdown. It was probably the longest on–side kick recovery in the annals of football. Given the clock doesn’t start until the ball is touched on a kick return, no time elapsed. Folk added the convert and the Jets had scored 10 points in zero seconds. Oh, the woe of being a Bills’ fan in 2016–17.
DOUG MIDDLETON CELEBRATES HIS “GIFT” TOUCHOWN ON SUNDAY AT METLIFE STADIUM.
SETH WENIG THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BACK IN THE DAY…
Delving 43 years into my collection, I came across issues of Hockey Pictorial magazine from January, February and March, 1974. Star players of the era (above) were featured on the covers: Bobby Orr, Dave Keon and Richard Martin. The January issue (below) had Orr wearing his East Division uniform from the 1973 NHL All–Star game at Madison Square Garden in New York. The great defenseman was 25 years old.
Here are some contents from the January/74 edition of Hockey Pictorial:
WAYNE CASHMAN OF THE BRUINS BATTLES WITH JIM McKENNY OF THE MAPLE LEAFS.
CASHMAN IS ABOUT TO BE GRABBED BY VETERAN PITTSBURGH DEFENDER BRYAN WATSON DURING A GAME AT BOSTON GARDEN BETWEEN THE BRUINS AND PENGUINS. LOOKING ON IS GOALIE ANDY BROWN — THE LAST–SUCH PLAYER TO GO WITHOUT A FACE–MASK IN THE NHL.
DAVE KEON, 34, WAS IN HIS SECOND–TO–LAST SEASON WITH THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS.
TOP–LEFT: ROOKIE FORWARD DAN MALONEY OF THE CHICAGO BLACK HAWKS IS BLOODIED AFTER A FIGHT AT THE BUFFALO MEMORIAL AUDITORIUM IN 1970–71, THE SABRES FIRST NHL SEASON. STANDING NEXT TO MALONEY IS THE LATE REFEREE, RON WICKS. TOP–RIGHT: AFTER 23 YEARS AS A CENTER–MAN WITH DETROIT, ALEX DELVECCHIO RETIRED TO BECOME COACH OF THE RED WINGS.
ACTION SHOT FROM THE 1973 NHL ALL–STAR GAME AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN. LEFT–TO–RIGHT: THE LATE GILLES MAROTTE; BOBBY CLARKE (MIDDLE) AND PHIL ESPOSITO.
SEEMS LIKE IT WAS ALWAYS “DECISION” TIME FOR THE WORLD HOCKEY ASSOCIATION.
ANSWERS BELOW (UNDER MY EMAIL ADDRESS).
And, for your listening enjoyment, this hockey classic: http://bit.ly/2iIYd0U.
TOP (LEFT–TO–RIGHT): GUY CHARRON, FRED O’DONNELL, WAYNE THOMAS, NORM GRATTON.
BOTTOM (LEFT–TO–RIGHT): DENIS DUPERE, CURT BENNETT, BARRY GIBBS, BILL BARBER.