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Salute to long-time Maple Leaf "voice" Joe Bowen

It no doubt seems like the best job in the world—doing the play-by-play for your favorite NHL hockey team.  (Through for me, doing baseball for the San Diego Padres remains my fantasy “dream job”—the weather, the location, and c’mon, I mean, it’s baseball.  So peaceful, easy-going—what a gig.)

But as another season comes to an end, I thought it might be timely to send a shout out to the long-time “voice” of the Maple Leafs, Joe Bowen.

I don’t know Joe on a personal level, but I remember when he was a young guy doing Sudbury Wolves games back in the late 1970s, early ‘80s. (I think it was Joe...I hope I'm not wrong!) I couldn’t hear him back then on the radio because I ddn't live in Northern Ontario, except for a few months up in Sault. Ste. Marie in 1978.  But I remember seeing him in the broadcast booth where the Oshawa Generals played, at the old Civic Auditorium.  (For a short time, during parts of the 1980-’81 and the 1981-’82 season I was doing color commentary on the Generals’ broadcasts with Mike Inglis, now one of the voices of the Miami Heat, I believe, in the NBA.  So we were in the same modest-sized broadcast booth a few times at the Civic Auditorium.) Those Gens’ teams were pretty good—Joe Cirella, Tony Tanti, Mitch Lamoureaux, John MacLean and Dave Andreychuk were just a few of the fine young players I enjoyed watching develop.  Sherry Bassin was the high-energy General Manager.)

Anyway I remember Joe, and not long after, when the Leaf gig came up for what I presume was a competition of sorts, Joe earned the big “promotion” from Junior hockey.  (It's amazing, really. How often did that job come up?  I mean, you had Foster and then Bill Hewitt on the job for like fifty years.  I recall Ron Hewatt (no relation to the Hewitt family) doing a lot of radio play-by-play for the Leafs on CKFH. Peter Maher briefly when the old CKO network had the rights for a year…).  It was a rare opportunity at a dream job and Bowen got it—and he’s run with it successfully ever since.

I don’t know exactly the season, I’m guessing it was pretty early ‘80s when he earned that honor, so he must now be coming up to 30 years on the job, and he's sounding just fine on radio and television. 

I probably enjoyed Joe the most over the years when he was teamed with Harry Neale.  Harry has that wonderfully wry sense of humor and usually sent Joe into a freefall of laughter at some point during the broadcasts. (Harry never had the same effect, too bad, on the much revered and more legendary Bob Cole, who himself became a fixture on Leaf CBC TV broadcasts after Bill Hewitt retired in the early '80s.)

Bowen also blends well with Greg Millen, one of the thoughtful analysts in the game, and with side-liner Paul Hendrick, the guys seem to have fun—not a bad thing in any job, and certainly not bad for the listeners. 

Over the years Bowen has worked in the booth with a lot of different analysts, including Bill Watters (while Bill was a player-agent and before his days as an Assistant GM with the Maple Leafs).  Bill of course now hosts his own show on Talk 640 in Toronto—“the home of the Leafs”.

Rain or shine, win or lose, Joe brings unbridled passion to his broadcasts.  He may not be everyone’s cup of tea—few broadcasters and play-by-play guys are.  (He is nicely spelled on the radio side as needed by the very competent and skilled Dennis Beyak.)  Joe certainly has his favorite expressions (Holy Mackinaw, however you spell it, among others) but while somewhat predictable and repetitive, that has become part of his trademark and charm over the years.

It may sound and look easy, but it’s a demanding job and he does it very well.

Being a “home town” announcer can be a challenge, especially when the home town team struggles, as has been the case with the Leafs at various junctures in Joe’s time with the blue and white.  (On that note, I always remember my Dad telling me the story about how, back in the late 1950s, I believe it was, the Detroit Tigers- we lived across from Detroit- fired Van Patrick as their play-by-play guy.  Afterwards, Patrick apparently said something along the lines of “Good luck finding someone else to make your crummy team sound better…”.  An interesting aside…Patrick went on to become the voice of the NFL Detroit Lions and handled Notre Dame football broadcasts as well.  To me, he was a great announcer.  He had one of those voices from God.  He really brought a game to life over the radio.)

Joe Bowen has been the welcoming and solid voice of the team these many years.  For younger Leaf fans who don’t remember the Hewitts, he has been “it”, the "guy" behind the mike.

Some talented young broadcaster will no doubt earn the same “break” Bowen did way back when.  But until then, here’s to 30 more, Joe.


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