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Joe Bowen.Photo illustration The Globe and Mail. Source photo Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Nearing the end of his 42nd season in the Toronto Maple Leafs broadcast booth, Joe Bowen has covered almost 50 per cent of the games in team history, mostly from his perch high above the ice. From the ceaseless drama of the Harold Ballard years in the 1980s to the Doug Gilmour-led teams of the early nineties that reached back-to-back semi-finals, through to today’s current crop, the 73-year-old has had the perfect vantage point.

“The two years that Dougie was here that pushed him into that kind of stratosphere was magical,” Bowen recollects on the team that came so close to reaching a first Stanley Cup final since 1967.

But the Sudbury septuagenarian has enjoyed a special pleasure this year, calling every one of Auston Matthews’s 63 markers, as the NHL’s goal-scoring leader continues to extend his single-season franchise record with seven games remaining in the regular season.

“I honestly don’t think that we appreciate him enough yet in this market and obviously winning the ultimate prize would put that over the top but watching him on a nightly basis is an absolute thrill and a treat,” he says.

Like the rest of Leafs Nation, Bowen is hopeful that the team can build on last year, when Toronto finally won a playoff series for the first time since 2004. However, having borne witness to every Leafs postseason since he began broadcasting on opening night at old Chicago Stadium in 1982, he knows the playoffs are always a crapshoot.

“I think this year’s team is built more for the postseason than certainly any of the other teams that have had this core involved,” he says. “I think we have seen them be the instigators of the physical play, certainly no backing down whatsoever. And I think that harbours well for this run.”

Obviously you have a job that many young hockey fans and players throughout Canada would love to have, but what is your favourite occupation?

I’m a huge American history buff, particularly the American Civil War. So I would think that I would be either a professor of that at a university or a history teacher in high school.

It’s hard to be a history buff without being a reader. Do you have any favourite writers?

Shelby Foote. He was a tremendous historian. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the documentary series that was on PBS about the Civil War, but he was the Southern-speaking man that was on there that had a great insight into all the stuff that went on. It was really quite exciting. He has a three-volume set that goes through the entire war that I’ve always enjoyed reading.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

I got involved in this because my dad was very much into it. And he was of the opinion that Gen. John Stevens Bowen of the Confederacy was somehow related to us because when the Bowens came from Ireland, some went to South Carolina and others came to Canada. So that’s where I kind of got the bug. There’s a book written about this gentleman, which was quite interesting that I enjoyed. In fact, when I went to Vicksburg [in Mississippi) and had a guy take me through the battlefield at Vicksburg, I gave him a copy of the book and he had never read it, and we’ve become good friends through the course of that.

So is there any truth to that connection to General Bowen?

You know what, I could do it. I could go in and explore it. But if I found out that my dad was wrong, it would break my heart. I’m going to the grave like my dad believing it, and I’m just gonna leave it at that.

Where would you most like to live in the world?

If I had the choice to retire, I would probably go to South Bend, Ind. And the reason for that is the University of Notre Dame, which we are huge fans of, and I would love to be one of the older ushers, welcoming you to Notre Dame Stadium for a football game.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I enjoy playing golf, which has just happened since COVID, where I got the bug and so I enjoy getting out three or four times a week when the weather permits. The extravagance is that every year I try to take my kids to a Notre Dame football game. I’ve taken them to Dublin, Ireland, to see them play Navy at Aviva Stadium, but we’re going to College Station, Tex., to see the opening game of the Fighting Irish against Texas A&M this year.

What is your current state of mind?

We could use a little improvement in this country’s economics.

Do you want to elaborate on that?

No, not really. I guess as you get older you get more, I hate to say, conservative in your approach to things but sometimes you just kind of wonder what direction we’re going in. That’ll be decided on when we have another election I guess, but to me, we seem to be going in a different direction than we need to be.

You’re a big Leafs fan, a big Notre Dame fan, but who or what is the greatest love of your life?

My kids and grandkids. I have four boys and two grandkids and that’s the love of my life.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I would love to play the banjo. I love any of the Irish ballads or songs or jigs or reels and stuff and the banjo plays a lot of times a very important part in it. And I can’t carry a tune, let alone play anything.

Which living person do you most despise?

Oh, Jim Ralph [he laughs in naming his long-time co-commentator]. I don’t think I despise anybody. I suppose you could go through a list of people that have done things to humanity that you would despise who are part of history but, I mean, currently I don’t. I don’t have any of that in me. I don’t think.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve been able to do this job for as long as I have. I’ve done 3,600 games which was a lot more than Foster Hewitt ever did and this year I will have done one more season than Foster Hewitt did and he was obviously a very big idol of mine growing up – he and Danny Gallivan and Bill Hewitt. So to have been allowed to do this for as long as I have and to have had as much fun doing it, I think that’s probably my proudest moment.

What is your greatest regret?

Well, obviously, we haven’t gotten to do a game in the big show. If I have a couple of more years left in me I certainly hope that we get to do that. And if I don’t, I hope that I’m alive to at least come down and stand on the corner and watch the parade move its way from Timmins down Highway 11 through [cottage country] and down into Toronto and take the Stanley Cup all the way to Lake Ontario.

Sounds like you’ve got the parade route all planned out …

They’d have to make a right-hand turn to go through my hometown in Sudbury, but it would be a small detour.

Which person do you most admire?

Winston Churchill. I’ve read a lot about him and I enjoy watching any of the movies that they have made about him. I can remember 1965, the year my dad died. I was 14. But that January, when Churchill died, I was told that I was not going to school that day, and I stayed home with my dad. And the only time I ever saw my dad weep, and I mean really weep, was watching that funeral procession and what that man had done to literally save mankind. And obviously there are a lot of things that probably Churchill didn’t do right and there’s criticism [for] policies and other things. But when you get to the point where the British lion roared, it was his voice that was doing the roaring and it was him that pushed that country and the rest of the world to literally save mankind.

On what occasion do you lie?

Well, I don’t lie about my age. I used to lie about my weight, but I’m losing weight. I lie about my height.

What do you tell people?

That I’m 6-2. But I tell them I’m taller on radio.

Which words or phrases do you overuse?

I try not to overuse my signature call of ‘Holy Mackinaw!’ because I don’t want to have that kind of predominate. God, I hope I don’t overuse too many of them. Well, hopefully ‘He shoots, he scores.’ I’ve done it 60-odd times for Auston Matthews this season.

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