Sportscaster Magazine

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Holy Mackinaw! Joe Bowen is The Voice of the Leafs

"When I was a youngster and I was sitting on my father's lap watching Johnny Bower make a great save, he might blurt that out," he said. Now it's his catchphrase, his calling card - and his website!


That voice. That excitement. That catchphrase. Nobody ignites the celebration of a good goal quite like Joe Bowen.

For over three decades (since 1982), Bowen has been the voice of the Leafs and his fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Between his boisterous personality and that trademark belly laugh, he’s a household name that many fans miss hearing when they watch televised Leafs games.

After Rogers Media bought the NHL’s Canadian national media rights in 2014 in an unprecedented 12-year deal, it split the radio and regional television rights for the Leafs with Bell Media. This meant that Joe Bowen would be heard exclusively on radio, Sportsnet 590 The Fan and TSN 1050 with Jim Ralph.

At the time, his fans took to petitioning to bring him back to TV, however Paul Romanuk remains the official voice for the regional telecasts.

Holy Mackinaw! Joe Bowen is The Voice of the Leafs

“I wanted to play goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs and it didn’t happen,” he admitted.

But making the call on radio is just as important and just as demanding; it’s shouldn’t be underestimated. Bowen’s experience and skill are evident when he delivers the play-by-play via radio.

“You have to be more accurate in where the puck is, at least in the style that I do on radio,” he described. “With television you can obviously see what’s going on. When you are sitting in a car listening to the game, trying to figure out what’s going on, you have to be a little more graphic in where the puck is,” he said.

 

Current work and preparing for game day

Bowen’s day begins in the morning, and around 3 p.m. he heads downstairs where he speaks with other sportscasters.

“They are more open to what is going on with the opposing teams then probably the coaches are, so you get your information and then go enjoy the game,” he said.

The preparation is quite different from what it used to be. With the Internet, the demand has become less manual and more accessible. “Before, you literally had to go to the pre-games in order to get pre-notes of statistical information and everything else,” he described.

 

Humble beginnings and journey into the NHL

Bowen has paid his dues and earned his status among the ranks of the most beloved in sports media. The humble 65-year-old Sudbury native believes “a lot of good luck and a lot of hard work” is the reason for his success.

Joe Bowen began his journalistic pursuits at a local radio station in his hometown where he covered mainly basketball, with some hockey and football.

“I came home to Sudbury after graduating and the biggest break I had was when the owner of TV station in Sudbury, who was a friend of my dad’s, gave me an opportunity to start there. I worked there for a couple of summers while I was going to university and I got my foot in the door,” he recalled.

After working in the promotional department for a while, Bowen’s big break came when the man who was covering the Sudbury Wolves games decided to go to the CBC. 

“I did that, and then seven years after doing junior games in the OHL with the Wolves, I got an opportunity to go to Nova Scotia to do the American Hockey League games with the Voyagers,” he said. Three years later, Bowen came to Toronto.

 

Industry influences

Growing up, Bowen didn’t idolize some of the names you might first associate with being an inspiration for a young broadcast industry professional. Instead, Johnny Bower motivated him.

“I wanted to play goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs and it didn’t happen,” he admitted.

Needless to say, one broadcaster did stick out: “At the time there were only six teams in the League and we really only had two broadcasters – one was Foster Hewitt and the other was Danny Gallivan. As much as I hated the Montreal Canadians and the games he was doing, I admired Danny for the way he did the games. He’s been the best that I’ve ever heard and everyone else subsequently is struggling for second place,” said Bowen.

 

Current work

With Joe Bowen, you either love him, or are his biggest critic. He’s often criticized for being a “homer” – the very trait that fans love. His unabashed love for the Toronto Maple Leafs makes even the dullest game excitable. Nobody seems as thrilled about a great play or goal like he does.

“At this particular point, I do the games for the Toronto Maple Leafs and so you hope they do well. If I was just doing HNIC and didn’t give two floozies of who was going to win or lose you would probably do it different,” he said.

His favourite call?

“I think going through the ‘80s without much opportunity to move on, I would think that Nikolai Borschevsky goal in Detroit in that playoff run that went on to go to the Stanley Cup semi-finals was pretty special,” he said. Recently, his most memorable call has been the Auston Matthews’ debut game goals.

 

“Holy Mackinaw” catchphrase:

And who can dismiss the impact of his famous “Holy Mackinaw” catchphrase? His father, who passed away before Bowen entered high school, would blurt it out during games.

“When I was a youngster and I was sitting on my father’s lap watching Johnny Bower make a great save, he might blurt that out,” he said. Now it’s his catchphrase, his calling card – and his website!

But Bowen’s use of the phrase wasn’t intentional.

“I didn’t use it through junior hockey or the American Hockey League. About four years into my tenure with the Maple Leafs, Bill Watters was doing colour with me and I blurted that out over a Felix Potvin save. I looked over and he had fallen down laughing. I thought, ‘If I got that response from him, I’ll use it again’.”

And happily, again and again!

 

Holy Mackinaw! Joe Bowen is The Voice of the Leafs

“When I was a youngster and I was sitting on my father’s lap watching Johnny Bower make a great save, he might blurt that out,” Joe Bowen said. Now it’s his catchphrase, his calling card – and his website!

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