Frank McGee, George Richardson, Hobey Baker, and Scotty Davidson are best known for their on-ice accomplishments. Heroes of hockey, all four have been forever enshrined as honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. But today, and every day, they should also be remembered for the sacrifices they made during World War I. Read more
Johnny Bower lied about his age to get into the army (he said he was older) and to play in the NHL (he said he was younger), but today he’s fully prepared to embrace every one of his 90 years on Earth.
At some point today, the Hall of Famer and former Leaf great will blow out 90 candles on his birthday cake, without much of a problem. He still gets around really well, even straps the blades on occasionally, and approaches life with the same vigor he did 50 years ago when he was helping the Toronto Maple Leafs win Stanley Cups. He’ll mark to occasion in a small private party that will include Nancy, his wife of 66 years, and his children and grandchildren. Then, true to form, Bower will head to the Air Canada Centre to watch the only two NHL teams he ever played for when the New York Rangers visit the Maple Leafs.
“I looked at Nancy and said, ‘Can I go?’ “ Bower said enthusiastically. “And she said, ‘Oh yeah, go and see the game.’ “
Bower is the third-oldest living Leaf behind Howie Meeker, who turned 91 last Tuesday, and 95-year-old Wally Stanowski. But there’s little doubt he’s one of the most popular players ever to wear the uniform. Any Leaf who was on the four Stanley Cup teams in the 1960s is still revered in Toronto and Bower is still a regular at Leaf home games and gets out to a good number of charity events and signings. That’s mostly because he can’t seem to sit still.
“If I stayed home and watched television all the time, I’d be dead in a month,” Bower said. “I’ve got to go out and walk and exercise at home. I can still touch my toes. Up and down, up and down.”
Perhaps one of the factors in Bower’s longevity is that the NHL miles didn’t start piling up for him until later in life. Bower toiled in the minors for years and didn’t play an NHL game until he was almost 30 years old. After one season with the Rangers, he bounced around the minors again and didn’t become a full-time NHLer until the Leafs picked him up when he was 35. By that time, Bower preferred to stay in Cleveland because he was secure with his family and had post-hockey job offers, but he also had a childhood dream of getting his name on the Stanley Cup and the only way that could be fulfilled was for him to play in the NHL.
“I finally decided to go when Mr. Hendy (the GM of the Cleveland Barons in the American League) told me, ‘John, I’ll put it in your contract that if you can’t make it in Toronto, you’re coming back to Cleveland,’ “ Bower said. “Hooray! That’s what I said. I guess I made a pretty good decision.”
Indeed. Bower went on to forge a Hall of Fame career with four Cups and make an indelible mark on the franchise. When the organization conceived its Legends Row statues to salute its past greats, Bower joined Ted Kennedy and Darryl Sittler as the first three to be honored. He was the oldest goaltender to win his first Stanley Cup when he did so in 1962 and is the oldest goalie overall to have his name on the Cup, something he achieved five years later. Even after retiring, Bower has remained remarkably healthy, something he attributes to Nancy.
“Thank God I’ve got a wonderful wife. I wouldn’t trade her for all the tea in China,” Bower said. “We have our ups and downs like everyone else, but we always iron them out before we go to bed. I kiss her goodnight and say, ‘I’m sorry Sweetheart. You were right and I was wrong,’ and I always get a smile.”
As for the age thing, well, that’s just a number. After all, Bower lied about his age for years when he played, thinking that if he told people he was born in 1928 he’d have a longer career in the NHL.
“I was almost 45 years old and still playing in the league, but it caught up to me,” Bower said. “Punch (Leafs GM Imlach) said to me I couldn’t see and I said, ‘I can see, but I don’t want to wear a mask He said to me, ‘It doesn’t matter if you can see or not, you’re not stopping anything anyway,’ and that was it.”
When Marian Hossa scored the 1,000th point of his career Thursday night, my first inclination was to put him in the Hockey Hall of Fame. After all, he already has two Stanley Cups (and possibly more to come) and he’s one of the best two-way players of his era.
Good enough for me. But then again, the Hall of Fame should be for the truly special players, not just the very good ones. And that’s where the decision around Hossa becomes a little more vexing.
Is Hossa a very good player, or truly a great player? As THN senior editor and Hall of Fame expert Brian Costello points out, 1,000 points is now more of a milestone than a Hall of Fame barometer. And there are currently 19 Hall of Fame eligible players who scored 1,000 points during their careers and who are not in the hall. With 466 career goals so far, Hossa is a shoo-in for the 500 mark and that’s where it starts to get a little more interesting. There are only seven players who have scored 500 who are eligible for the Hall of Fame and are not in there. Read more
Gordie Howe, one of the game’s true legends, suffered a serious stroke earlier this week. His condition remains serious but his family says it is improving.
Amid the well wishes for Howe, 86, we’ve seen an outpour of nostalgia and people sharing their favorite memories of him, from his dominant play as the original power forward to the way he always took time for others and never minded being adored, as he understood what it felt like to be on the other end.
We’ve also seen lots of Howe photos popping up, and the one above, of Howe fishing for tuna, blew me away. The imgur user who posted it said it best: “Now I know how he knocked so many people around.”
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Nicklas Backstrom quietly scored his 500th career point against the Edmonton Oilers Wednesday night.
He did it quietly because Backstrom does everything quietly. That has something to do with the fact that he’s Swedish and, remarkably like almost all his countrymen, is singularly unimpressed with himself. It also has something to do with the fact that he plays alongside Alex Ovechkin, a larger-than-life figure who is comfortable in the spotlight. Backstrom is more than happy to allow Ovechkin to soak up all the adulation, and have to handle the pressure that comes with being an NHL superstar. Read more
On the day he was honored with his own stamp, the man many hockey fans feel was the greatest player of all-time gave his stamp of approval for that designation to Gordie Howe. Bobby Orr threw his support behind Mr. Hockey in the never-ending debate concerning the greatest player ever to play the greatest game. “Gordie is, in my mind, the greatest ever,” said Orr, who recently penned the foreword for Howe’s memoir, Mr. Hockey. “His numbers are outrageous and most of that was with the six teams, when it was a lot tougher. I don’t think there’s any question. Play any way you want to play…he was special.” Read more
Call 2014-15 the year of the sneaky milestone, the season that’ll have people on the street saying “He’s played how many games?” and “That guy has that many goals? Who knew?!”
Perusing the top 10(ish) high-water marks that should be reached, you’ll find at least one legendary name and more than a few surprises.
10. Marc-Andre Fleury’s and Ryan Miller’s 300th wins
Even if both tenders have their share of critics, especially when it comes to their recent playoff performances, Fleury and Miller have done generally fine work in the regular season. At 288 and 294 victories, respectively, each guy should join the 300 club easily, becoming the 30th and 31st members.
We’re going to go on the assumption here that Teemu Selanne has retired from the NHL for good this time. Of course, you never know with Selanne, but we’re thinking he’s serious about it this time.
That leaves Jaromir Jagr as the oldest player in the NHL this season. And it also gives Jagr a career distinction that not many players can say they share.
When Jagr made his NHL debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990-91, he did so as the youngest player in the NHL that season. Born Feb. 15, 1972, Jagr beat out Owen Nolan of the Quebec Nordiques by just three days. Jagr actually had a bit of good fortune in this situation because the three players aside from Nolan who were taken before him in the 1990 draft – Petr Nedved, Mike Ricci and Keith Primeau – were all late birthdays in 1971 who missed the 1989 draft because they were too young.
Fast-forward 24 years later and Jagr is still playing, and playing very well, for the New Jersey Devils. By the time this season ends, Jagr will be 43 years and two months old, which will make him the 10th oldest player to ever play in the NHL. And it will also give him a distinction shared by the legendary Gordie Howe. When Howe played as a rookie for the Detroit Red Wings in 1946-47, he did so as the youngest player in the six-team NHL that season. And when he finished his NHL career with the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80, he did so as the oldest player in the league at 52.
Not sure how many players can say they were both the youngest and oldest player in the NHL during the course of their careers, but the fact that Jagr and Howe are two who can is a testament to both their prodigious talents as young men and their ability to maintain a high level of play throughout length careers. Some players have one or the other, but a precious few have both. And those who do tend to end up with a plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Jagr is on the verge of a couple of other milestones this season worth celebrating. With 705 career goals, he is sure to pass Mike Gartner and Phil Esposito on the all-time goals list. But here’s where it gets interesting. If he scores 27 this season – remember, he had 24 last year – he’ll pass Marcel Dionne at No. 4 and if he has a wildly successful season and gets 37, he’ll usurp Brett Hull at No. 3.
With 44 points this season – entirely achievable since he had 67 in 2013-14 – Jagr will pass Ron Francis for fourth on the all-time points list. If he takes 210 shots this season – he had 231 with the Devils last season – he’ll be No. 2 behind Ray Bourque on the all-time career list for shots.
Kind of makes you wonder where Jagr would be if he had decided to stay in the NHL instead of playing in Russia for three years and if he hadn’t been robbed of a season-and-a-half with lockouts. But the same could be said for Howe, who retired for two years and played six more in the World Hockey Association before returning to the NHL. Bobby Hull, with 610 career goals, played six-plus seasons in the WHA before returning for a nine-game stint with the Whalers in 1979-80.
And who knows? Jagr hasn’t hinted at retirement and with his level of play so high, it’s not inconceivable that he could play a couple more seasons in the NHL. Regardless of how long he plays, three years after he decides to hang up his skates there will be a place waiting for him in the Hall of Fame.