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An interview with the voice of the Leafs, Joe Bowen

The history of the Toronto Maple Leafs is a remarkable one, indeed.  Some of the great names in the history of the sport have played proudly for the blue and white—from Syl Apps and Teeder Kennedy to Tim Horton, Johnny Bower, Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Borje Salming and in more modern times individuals such as Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour and Mats Sundin.

We’ve had some legendary coaches represent this Leaf franchise, too.  If I'm not mistaken, team founder Conny Smythe actually coached the club back for a time in the very early 1930s.  In my memory alone (dating back to the late 1950s), Punch Imlach, Pat Burns, Roger Neilson and Pat Quinn are among the biggest and brightest names in Leaf coaching lore.  However, the truth is, like so many sports franchises, the coaching position has been quite a carousel for much of the Leafs' history.

Beyond those I've mentioned, some pretty big names have coached the blue and white, going back to when I was a child in the 1950s.  The ever-popular former player, King Clancy, coached for a while in the mid-‘50s, I believe (and I’m not referring here to his interim stints while Imlach was ill during the ‘60s).  The former Cup-winning Maple Leaf and modern era TV analyst Howie Meeker had a short stint behind the bench as well in the '50s.  Ex-Hab great Billy Reay was on board when I first started following the Leafs, until Imlach took over in the fall of 1958.

Punch’s reign was lengthy (he was fired at the end of the 1968-'69 season), but through the ‘70s and ‘80s a number of guys did not last that long, though Hall-of-Famer Red Kelly did have a fairly nice tenure in the early and mid ‘70s.

But overall, the exit door has been littered with all kinds of names, big and small, who coached the Leafs. Joe Crozier, Mike Nykoluk, John Brophy and Doug Carpenter are just of few of the people who were in charge of the Leafs, albeit for fairly short periods of time.

Now, unlike the coaching ranks, when it comes to the individuals who have been the “voice of the Maple Leafs”, the list is remarkably short by comparison.  I’m sure I don't recall all the names who have done Leaf games on radio or television at one time or another, but we all know Foster Hewitt was “the man" for decades, followed by his son Bill, in the broadcast booth.  (Foster, who truly made hockey popular with his broadcasts in the '30s and '40s, is my favourite hockey radio voice of all-time. For me, though, Danny Gallivan, pictured at right in his early broadcast days, was superb on the TV side, bringing a game to life like no one else for many years on behalf of the Montreal Canadiens on the team's english-language broadcasts…) For Foster and son Bill, their work included a weekly stint on Hockey Night in Canada on CBC television, and their radio play-by-play on CBC (Sunday nights in those days) as well as on the station that Foster owned, CKFH in Toronto.

I recall the wonderful Fred Sgambati doing Leaf games on the radio on Sunday nights (I believe the early ‘70s, maybe before…) and later Ron Hewatt (spelled differently, no relation to Foster and Bill) did Leaf radio games for many years.  A then young Peter Maher did the Leaf broadcasts for a year or two when the radio rights shifted for a time in the late 1970s, but by the early ‘80s, Foster had re-acquired the rights  and was selling his station, while Bill had retired from the broadcast booth.  So the Maple Leafs were looking for a new “voice”.

Well, they hired someone who has certainly stood the test of time.  Sudbury native Joe Bowen cut his teeth doing Junior A games in his hometown back in the ‘70s and after a stint in the American Hockey League in Eastern Canada, has done the Leaf games on radio (often on television as well, as Leaf followers well know) for 30 years now—longer, I believe, than even the venerable Bill Hewitt, though not quite as long as Foster yet, I don’t believe.

Bowen has become a familiar and very popular voice for Leaf faithful all around the world, and was kind enough to give Matteo Codispoti from We Want a Cup and I a bit of his time this week to look back on his fascinating broadcasting career.  It was a nice conversation and I hope you’ll enjoy Episode 13 of our Leaf Matters podcast with the long-time voice of the blue and white, Joe Bowen, via the iTunes link here

For those not on iTunes, here is the Podalmighty network link:

If you’ve missed some of our earlier chats (with ex-Leaf Allan Bester, long-time coach Pat Quinn and Elizabeth Brinton, the grand-daughter of the legendary Conn Smythe) just click on the link and you’ll have access to what I hope is  some enjoyable hockey conversation.

Thanks to all those who have started tuning in to “Leaf Matters” and especially to those who have taken the time to rate the show favourably on iTunes and leave personal feedback.  Thanks very much!


  1. Fun interview... glad Joe is willing to be a 'homer' on the air (and it is clear that he is also quite realistic) - he's a fun broadcaster. Sure enjoy listening to him over all the other current guys!

    Sure hope I get to see Johnny Bower in net if we do the Winter Classic some year before he turns 100!

    Quick Edit note: The Podalmighty link is actually Episode 12 when I checked it - oops!

  2. Bowen was fun to chat with, InTimeFor62. I'll look into the link issue- thanks!

  3. Living in Ottawa for the past 7 Years and was overseas for the better part of from 1998-2005, it was really hard to be a leafs fan wanting to see live games. If not for the internet streaming, there wasn't a way to follow the Leafs except for reading about it after the fact.As long as I can remember, Joe was the voice that I cherished. What really struck out for me though wasn't the many times Joe called a winning goal for the Leafs or his signature remark. What stood out for me was last year as I watch a live streaming broadcast while the Leafs were at a pivotal game during the slide. They lost thus playoff was a forgone conclusion and I realized what a huge fan he truly was and not a someone just doing a job. As with streaming, it was raw and at times during commercial breaks, the mic was live. During the last commercial break after the final horn, I could not tell who he was talking to as only his mic can be heard but he was so passionately disappointed about the outcome that many expletives were used. You can hear in his voice and thus it conveyed what every true Leafs felt at the time too; the disgust, frustrations and resignation. I realized then what a true Leafs fan he was and although he is professional, he was truly the right man for the job as clearly he bled blue and white.

  4. Well said, Anon. You hit the nail on the head. We want our play-by-play guys to know their stuff, call the game well, but we also want that passion. We want to know that they're work is professional but also authentic. For many Leaf fans around the world, Bowen fits that bill beautifully. Thanks Anon!