Bower laces 'em up again
Roger Spivey (back) meets with Johnny Bower at the Leafs legend's home Dec. 13, 2011. Spivey was given Bower's pads by Tim Horton in the late 1960s and decided to return them last week. (IAN ROBERTSON/QMI Agency)
A big-hearted Whitby dad gave Johnny Bower a pre-Christmas gift the Leafs legend never thought he would see again.
After lining up at the Whitby Mall for Bower's advertised visit, Roger Spivey took the 87-year-old Mississauga resident aside and told him his old goalie pads were in his car.
Bower said he never had a chance to keep them as souvenirs.
"Players weren't allowed to have any of their gear," based on rules set by Harold Ballard, the late penny-pinching owner of Maple Leaf Gardens and the team's principal share-holder, he said.
"We all tried a couple of times, taking a couple of sticks, but I got caught and Mr. Ballard wasn't very pleased with me," Bower said. "You had to turn it in and trainers usually handed them down to the minors."
Hesitant about their authenticity, plus Spivey's motives, he spotted his initials on the old leather-covered pads.
"I was in tears," Bower said.
Bower was born in Saskatchewan and first played professionally in 1944-45 with his hometown Prince Albert Black Hawks, he keeps "really busy" accepting invitations to appear in public.
"I can't say no to the kids," Bower added.
At the mall for autograph-signing, accompanied by ex-NHL defenceman Pierre Pilote, 80, he thought Spivey might want to sell the pads, or get them signed to score better resale value.
"I never asked ... I didn't want to know," said Spivey, 61, who had to adapt the pads because he's slightly taller than Bower. "I played goal for years, but have back trouble now."
With Ballard's legendary stinginess, Bower rightly wondered how the pads left the locker room.
"Tim Horton gave them to my mom for me," around 1968, Spivey confided.
Horton was killed in a 1974 car crash in St. Catharines after playing 24 professional seasons, including the Leafs, met Ethel Spivey where she worked at the Toronto Telegram.
She mentioned her son played defence but wanted to become a goalie but lacked money for required equipment.
Working together in the former newspaper's ad department, when pro hockey players didn't have mega-salaries "they were friends," Roger said of his late mom and the doughnut-coffee chain founder.
Somehow, Horton talked a team manager into donating the pads, which Bower last used during practice.
Spivey was a goalie with several non-professional teams, including once n a charity game with the NHL Old-Timers.
Though in fair shape, he restuffed the pads at least twice and re-covered one of them - which Bower regularly slapped with his stick during games.
"To think he used them for such a long time...that's great," he said.
After handing over the faded, creased and worn treasures of games long ago, "Nancy Bower, his wife, paid me the biggest compliment," Spivey said. "She said Johnny hasn't been that happy in years.
"He said he'd never been to a function where anyone ever gave him anything.
"A lot of friends have told me I was crazy to give them away instead of getting his signature on them and selling them, but I wanted him to have them," Spivey said.
"It was very nice of him," said Bower, who has "a few things," including his No. '1' sweater and stick from the Leaf's 1967 Stanley Cup-winning game.
Retired since 1970, he gave the sweater to his namesake son, "Johnny the Second," who lives in Calgary.
As for the pads, "I'm going to cherish this," Bower said.
Spivey will not only relive making his hero happy, he got an autographed action card from the legendary player, plus photos of them together.
"He was a perfect gentleman," he said of Bower.
They both scored a lifetime memory.