Johnny Bower didn't miss a beat.
With photographers crowding around during an appearance at the Hockey Hall of Fame on Friday morning, the legendary Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender urged everyone to take a step back. “You'll get all the lines on my face,” he said with a laugh.
Surprisingly spry, Bower is still going strong at age 87. Not only did his week include the stop at the Hockey Hall, he also earned huge applause after being shown on the Air Canada Centre scoreboard during Tuesday's Leafs-Bruins game.
He loves staying close to the sport.
“It's a great feeling here,” said Bower, motioning towards his heart. “I just can't believe the ovation I get here all the time. It makes me really feel good inside to be remembered by the fans.”
Bower has long been a man who belied his age.
He was the oldest member of the 1967 Leafs Stanley Cup team — at the time, his exact age was shrouded in mystery — and would go on to play parts of three seasons beyond that.
All these years later, he remains loyal to the blue and white. The majority of the people who stop him on the street want an autograph and some assurance that everything will be fine with the current Maple Leafs. He often has to remind people he doesn't work for the team.
“I'm still sticking up for them,” said Bower. “I'll be a Maple Leaf until I die.”
On Friday, he was at the Hall of Fame along with five other honoured members to unveil a renovated wing of the building. Since being inducted in 1976, Bower has seen the Hockey Hall move from a small space on the exhibition grounds in Toronto to its much bigger location downtown.
He and the other Hall of Famers took a few playful swipes at one another.
“I remember Johnny Bower having breakfast with Moses one time,” cracked former Philadelphia Flyers goalie Bernie Parent. “He's been around a long time, right?”
“Johnny's always been a professional and represented the game well,” he added. “He was a great goalie.”
Bower has been married to wife Nancy for 63 years — “I wouldn't trade her for all the tea in China,” he says — and credits his good health to all the household chores he's had to do over the years.
“I've got four doctors I have to go through every three months or something like that,” said Bower. “They say I'm getting on real good. Right now I've got a bit of a sore back there — a little bit of a pinched nerve I guess — but outside of that I feel pretty good.
“I do a lot of walking, I do a lot of dishwashing at home, I mop the floor, I do everything.”
But every once and awhile there are reminders of the passing of time. On Friday morning, he surveyed the group on stage that included Parent, Yvan Cournoyer, Harry Howell, Denis Potvin and Darryl Sittler.
At 79 — eight years his junior — Howell was the next closest in age.
“I'm not a young man any more,” said Bower. “I look down here at these older guys and I think I'm the oldest guy here. Can you imagine that? I can't believe it.”
You'd never know it to see him.
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