Have you ever tried to shoot a hockey puck over the Great Wall of China? Some have, but without much success. NHL star goalie Johnny “The China Wall” Bower recently passed away, and is remembered for being a fierce competitor on and off the ice. When he was a boy growing up in Canada, Johnny made himself his own hockey gear: a stick and a ripped-up mattress for goalie pads. He left home at the age of 15 and lied about his age to join the military. He was a gunner during World War II, stationed in England. When he was discharged due to his rheumatoid arthritis, Bower went back home to Saskatchewan to play junior hockey for a year, later turning pro.
Johnny spent around 11 seasons playing for the Cleveland Barons in the American Hockey League, winning countless awards and even helped win his team three Calder Cup championships. With several years of experience and awards, he moved into the NHL. He started for one season with the Rangers over the team’s previous rookie of the year, Gump Worsley. Unfortunately, after only one season, Bower was sent back to the Minors since the Rangers didn’t have much use for him at the time. After a few years of bouncing between multiple minor league teams, he eventually signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. At this point he was starting to be noticed as one of the best athletes in the world, and proved it by winning his first Vezina Trophy in 1961. The Vezina Trophy is handed out to the best goaltender. Bower lead the league in fewest goals allowed during that season. He even won three Stanley Cup championships during his prime from the years 1961-64. Nicknamed, “The China Wall” for his amazing ability to block goals, Bower remained a top tier goaltender when he shared another Vezina Trophy with fellow teammate and goaltender Terry Sawchuk. Additionally, Bower won another Stanley Cup, totaling four Stanley Cups and three Calder Cups, as well as two Vezina trophies. Despite poor eyesight, the scrappy Johnny Bower played with tremendous heart and quickly became a legend among hockey pros.
Bower played his last game on December 10, 1969, making him, at the age of 45, the second oldest goaltender to ever play in an NHL game. He officially announced his retirement on March 19, 1970. Bower is now known as a Toronto Maple Leaf legend and the AHL career leader in wins. On December 26, 2017, Johnny Bower died from pneumonia at the age of 93. The game of hockey and fans everywhere will always miss such a legend.