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Canadian hockey legend Johnny Bower's casket is observed by fans, friends, and family at a celebration of life ceremony at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Jan. 3, 2018.Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

The long, full life of Johnny Bower was celebrated Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre by his family, contemporaries and one-time NHL rivals, a life of accomplishment and seemingly no regrets.

But not long before he died on Dec. 26 at the age of 93, the former Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender confessed there just might be one little regret.

It concerned a bottle of Johnnie Walker that has been in the Bower home in Mississauga for more than 50 years. It has been waiting to be opened to celebrate the Maple Leafs' first Stanley Cup win since 1967.

Bower, who was saving the bottle since receiving it around the time he and his Leafs teammates won the 1967 Cup, will never get to savour his keepsake. But Bower had said he was sure his family will lift their glasses.

He even spelled it out in his will. Then again, Bower, a child of the Depression who always understood the value of a dollar, gave his wife, Nancy, and his three children, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren an out.

"I'm a little worried about myself, whether I'll last that long or not," Mr. Bower said in the summer of 2017 about his chances of seeing his beloved Maple Leafs win another NHL championship. But, if the Leafs did and he was gone, "It's in my will. They can have a drink or do what they want. If they feel they can put it on eBay and make a lot of money, they can. But they have to divide it."

There have been many toasts since Bower's passing, all to the Hall of Fame goaltender himself, a man who became in his retirement the most beloved Maple Leaf of them all. His tireless work as a team ambassador – never turning down an opportunity to mingle with the fans – and his humble, sincere manner secured their enduring affection over the years, even as the team's follies tested it.

"In fact, he would be embarrassed by today's ceremony," Bower's grandson John Bower III said on Wednesday during the celebration that drew a couple thousand fans to the ACC, along with a long list of hockey greats. Joining Bower's grandson as speakers at the celebration were former teammates Dave Keon, Frank Mahovlich and Ron Ellis. Also in attendance was a large number of Maple Leafs, including Darryl Sittler, Paul Henderson, Red Kelly and Doug Gilmour, Montreal Canadiens great Yvan Cournoyer and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bower was remembered as a man who came to the NHL the hard way. He finally secured one of the precious few NHL goaltending jobs in 1958 at the age of 33 with the Maple Leafs in the six-team NHL after serving an 11-year apprenticeship, mostly with the Cleveland Barons in the American Hockey League. But he was never bitter over his travails. Kindness was the trait most often mentioned about Bower, along with his modesty and love of laughter.

"Grandpa understood the value of being kind," John Bower III said. "You showed kindness by shaking someone's hand and looking them in the eye."

But underneath the humility and common touch that resonated so much with fans in later years was a determined competitor. In an era when goaltenders did not wear face masks and their equipment offered only rudimentary protection, Bower did not hesitate to dive face and stick first into a swirling mass of sticks and skates to make one of his legendary poke-checks to knock the puck away.

When he retired in 1969 at the age of 45, Bower had four Stanley Cups on his resume (1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967) and two Vézina Trophies as the best goaltender in the NHL. He is still first in the AHL in career wins with 359 and he was named one of the NHL's 100 greatest players last year during the league's centennial celebrations.

Bower's competitive streak was such that he even hated being scored on in practice. Ellis said during the celebration he is often asked who was the most difficult goaltender he ever faced, and he has a ready answer: "Johnny Bower in practice."

Jim McKenny loves to tell the story of a couple of practices in the late 1960s when he was a teenage prospect who occasionally skated with the Leafs. Bower was in his early 40s then and Terry Sawchuk, who was almost as old, were the goaltenders. Each had his own approach to practice.

Sawchuk hated to practice, while Bower was the opposite. Bower would go to his net after a couple of laps around the ice and face all comers, while Sawchuk would reluctantly stand in the other crease and wave his stick at every shot.

"One time, for some reason, Johnny was letting everything in," McKenny said. "The guys were scoring all the time and really kidding him. They were all over him in the dressing room, calling him a sieve and all that. Johnny didn't say a word. He just got dressed and left.

"The next day, you couldn't get a shot by Bower. We must have taken a thousand shots and about four went in. The guys were still kidding him and Johnny didn't say a word. He got dressed and went to the door. Then he turned around, [swore at the players] and walked out."

There was a second of silence while Bower's teammates absorbed the shock of hearing such talk from the mild-mannered, devout Catholic. Then, McKenny said, "The guys just roared."

George Armstrong, Bower's best friend on the team, was asked about that story at Wednesday's celebration. The former Leafs captain said it might have happened, even if he doesn't remember it.

"McKenny has good stories," Armstrong said. "I don't know. That's the first time I've heard the story. If he told it, I would expect it might be true."

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