Bowen keeps goin'

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

Joe Bowen wondered if he would survive his first game as the Voice of the Maple Leafs, never mind call 2,177 more.

His broadcasting debut came Oct. 6, 1982, at Chicago Stadium, a rink as seedy and intimidating as the slum that surrounded it.

"I thought I was going on my last ride that night," Bowen said on the eve of tonight's pre-game ceremony marking his 25 years with the Leafs. "My taxi driver was big and mean-looking and he drove me down some scary-looking streets to get there.

"We made it, but found there was no audio connection for us at the rink and it didn't work right through the playing of the national anthems. There was no pre-game show back then, but just as the puck dropped, suddenly the engineer pointed at me that we were on the air. I was shocked at first, then gave a quick 'Hello everyone' and away I went."

The Leafs trailed 3-0 before he bellowed his first Leafs goal in the second period, one of two by Walt Poddubny in a 3-3 tie. His signature "Holy Mackinaw," a line borrowed from his dad, a football fan, would come later.

Bowen has missed only a couple games -- either on radio or, later, mid-week television -- for family reasons. He was around for nearly a decade of Harold Ballard's antics, some lively trips with coaches such as John Brophy and the night when irate fans threw Leafs sweaters on the Gardens ice.

Topping the good times, was the Game 7 overtime goal by Nik Borschevsky to beat the Red Wings in the 1993 playoffs.

"It was hard to see that Nik tipped it, but I had and with a goal that big, you wanted to get it right. That whole season was probably my favourite moment, a new start for the franchise. They've never won the Stanley Cup, but you could never accuse them of not trying."

Only broadcast pioneer Foster Hewitt has more years behind the Leafs mike than Bowen, whose colour commentators included Bill Watters, Gord Stellick, Dennis Hull, Jim Ralph and Harry Neale. Bowen got into the business in his native Sudbury with the junior Wolves and worked in Halifax with the Nova Scotia Voyageurs.

"I've often said this is the best job in Canada," Bowen said.

"It's like going to play hockey every night.

"I'm very honoured that the Leafs did this for me. If nothing else, I've met a lot of great people and hopefully, been as comfortable for them as wearing an old pair of shoes."


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