Johnny Bower and Gordie Howe were Saskatchewan guys, fishing buddies and opponents throughout their NHL careers.
Bower died this week, about 18 months after Howe, and it spurred memories of a favourite story regarding the two Hall of Famers. For almost his entire career as a goalie, Bower didn’t wear a mask. During one game between his Toronto Maple Leafs and Howe’s Detroit Red Wings, Bower stopped a shot and fell to the ice, with his bare face just inches away from the puck.
Before he was able to move, Bower looked up to see Howe bearing down on him, stick poised to flick the puck into the net. Howe was a hardened competitor en route to becoming the NHL’s all-time scoring leader; the goalie realized any shot would likely result in major facial damage. Instead, Howe fell intentionally on the puck, eschewing a certain goal to save his friend’s face. After the whistle stopped play, Bower asked Howe why he had been so gracious.
“It’s not the playoffs yet,” Howe told him.