Leafs voice Bowen ready for 42nd season on mic

TORONTO – Some pre-game challenges made for a memorable debut when Joe Bowen became the voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs over four decades ago.

He took them on with aplomb and was soon on his way to a Hall of Fame career that continues this year with his 42nd season on the mic.

“When I did (my) first game at Chicago Stadium, I wondered whether I’d get to do a second game,” Bowen said with a laugh.

After working as a play-by-play man for the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves and AHL’s Nova Scotia Voyageurs, Bowen got the Maple Leafs job in 1982.

He’ll never forget his debut NHL call in the Windy City.

“I was nervous as hell,” Bowen said in a recent interview. “I wanted to get to the rink early. I got in a cab with the biggest man I’d ever seen in my life to that point. (He was) driving this cab and down we went West Madison Street. We were going through the worst part of Chicago.

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“I’m thinking, ‘He’s taking me on my last ride and I’m not even going to get to do my first game.’ Then this mausoleum comes out of the horizon and I thought, ‘Oh, thank God. There it is.'”

Bowen had rehearsed some opening lines for his big night but technical difficulties were a problem. The pre-game show had to be scrapped and the engineer worked furiously to get the main broadcast on the air.

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“They’re just about to drop the puck and he points at me and says, ‘Go!,'” Bowen said. “Well all that stuff I had planned got thrown into the garbage can, they dropped the puck and away we go.

“It probably worked out better.”

The Maple Leafs have had a few decent playoff runs over Bowen’s tenure but the team’s Stanley Cup drought of 56 years is the longest in the NHL.

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Bowen, 72, was in his second year of high school when the Leafs last raised the trophy in 1967.

“You never thought that it would be this long of a period,” he said. “But then I became a Boston Red Sox fan just about the same time. The miracle run that they had (to get to the 1967 World Series) with Carl Yastrzemski and George Scott and Rico Petrocelli (and I) realized that these guys hadn’t won anything since (1918).

“You went, ‘Wow that’s a bit of a lengthy time.'”

The Red Sox finally ended their drought in 2004. The Chicago Cubs endured a century-plus dry spell that finally ended in 2016.

“We’re in our infancy as far as this is concerned,” Bowen said by way of comparison. “But you’ve got 32 teams all trying to do the same thing, so it’s pretty difficult.”

The Maple Leafs won a playoff series last spring for the first time since 2004.

When Toronto was eliminated by the Florida Panthers in the second round, Bowen — who didn’t know if his contract would be renewed — got choked up as he thanked longtime broadcast partner Jim Ralph and supporters on the air.

“Well partner, 41 years of doing this, 3,550 games, and if this is the end of the line, it’s been a hell of a run for us,” Bowen said. “I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. Hopefully we’ll be back next year but we’re not sure of that yet.”

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A new contract would be finalized in late summer. TSN 1050 and Sportsnet 590 share the team’s radio rights.

Bowen, who received the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for outstanding contributions as a hockey broadcaster in 2018, will call home games with Ralph from Scotiabank Arena. They’ll call road games remotely from studios in Toronto.

The contract is a one-year deal that includes two option years, Bowen said.

“I have sat there many, many nights just saying, ‘You know what? You’ve got the greatest job in the world and how many people would love to be right here in this chair doing it?'” Bowen said. “So don’t screw it up. Have fun, enjoy it, be good at it and be accurate at it.

“Get all the commercials in and hopefully the score right.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 11, 2023.

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