Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen - CKSOBirthplace
Sudbury, Ontario

April 5, 1951

First Media Job
CKSO Radio & TV Sudbury, Ontario

Joe Bowen is a true example of home-grown talent having established himself in high regard for his accomplishments and character. Joe was born in Sudbury and attended Sudbury High School while he played hockey and football. He was a member of the Copper Cliff Redmen Northern Ontario Peewee Championship Hockey Club in 1967. Post secondary education brought him to the University of Windsor where he studied Communication Arts and covered a fair amount of university sports on the campus radio station CJAM FM. Bowen had “caught the broadcasting bug”.

During those university years, Bowen was back home in Sudbury for the summer months and confesses that his father’s boyhood friend, Bill Plaunt, was his ‘foot in the door’ at CKSO. Joe picked up summer work in the television department running camera, telecine equipment and video taping and returned full-time after graduation to handle sports. Bowen was responsible for play-by-play of the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League. In addition to broadcasting the games, Joe held down the position of Sports Director anchoring various sportscasts throughout the day. Nearly eight years later, Joe made the move to Halifax and CHNS AM / CHFX FM where he broadcast the Nova Scotia Voyageurs of the American Hockey League games as well as taking over the duties of Sports Director. The move resulted in a happy reunion with Michael Cranston whom he’d worked with at CKSO. The two were back on the air with their entertaining rapport. It was as if they moved their morning show from Sudbury to Halifax!

In 1982 the Maple Leafs contacted Joe Bowen in search for a new play-by-play announcer. Bowen had been sending tapes and resumes to various organizations looking for new horizons. Bowen admits he thought he blew the biggest chance in his career when they called, perceiving this to be a crank from a colleague. Following a few choice words, Bowen paused for a moment, not without embarrassment, and realized this was the real deal. The caller was Len Bramson who told Bowen they were looking. Bowen remembers doubting Bramson’s promise to call back, but he did and Joe was hired before the telephone call ended!

By October of 1982 Joe Bowen was in Toronto and receiving a paycheque from the Maple Leafs. Joe Bowen became a household name, known as the “Voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs” and on Tuesday, March 7, 2017 he called his 3,000th game, a tally from regular season games, the playoffs and the pre-season. Adding icing to the cake, this game was a home winner for the Maple Leafs having beat the Detroit Red Wings, 3-2. Joe’s first ever Leafs game was on October 6, 1982 at the Chicago Stadium. The Leafs tied that game against the Blackhawks 3-3. He has missed only eight games due to family emergencies or health. He is also credited with calling games in all 30 current NHL rinks including 29 other venues. Bowen’s radio play-by-play can be heard on Sportsnet 590 The Fan, or TSN Radio 1050.

When asked if he started out in the business with the intention of patterning or copying another broadcaster’s style, Bowen explained he had to develop his own style and that would be something that would evolve, although he admits Danny Gallivan was a significant influence. He regards Gallivan as being the best he ever heard. His advice to anyone getting into the business includes the importance of being yourself, and also to learn as much as possible. Learning to appreciate other forms of sports whether it is curling, baseball, football and so on can pay off when and should opportunities in the business come up. Finally, Bowen would emphasize the importance of having fun. He credits his father with passing on the love of hockey and loyalty to the Maple Leafs. Bowen will tell you he has had the best job in the world and never takes one day of it for granted.

Chris Zelkovich, Sports Media Columnist of the Toronto Star, wrote in an article published October 3, 2007, quoting Joe as saying, “I approach my job as a fan rather than as a broadcaster or a critic.” Bowen also affirmed that contrary to popular belief he did not steal the phrase “Holy Mackinaw!” from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Rather he says, he took it from his father who used it all the time in lieu of swearing. Where his father got the term is unknown to Joe. In a March 2017 CBC interview, Joe recalled as a kid, he would hear his father often make use of the phrase, but he died before entering high school and he never did learn of its origin. Joe enjoyed playing the game in his teen years as goalie. In a practical frame of mind he surmised he wasn’t good enough to expect that back in the day one of only six original NHL teams would come knocking on his door. He did come out of his experience as a netminder with great admiration for goaltender Johnny Bower who remains Joe’s favourite hockey player.

Co-broadcasters and colour commentators include Harry Neale, a former coach and general manager, and Jim Ralph, a former minor-league goalie and one who has been described as being one of the quickest wits in hockey. Both Neale and Ralph joined Bowen in the broadcast booth in 1998, although Neale left for Buffalo in 2007.

Joe has been host of Molson Canadian Leaf Classics and Sunday Night Classics on the Leafs TV Digital Channel, later to become known as Leafs Nation Network.

Outside of the hockey arena, Bowen also called several seasons for the North Division of the National Lacrosse League (NLL) Toronto Rock, beginning with their inaugural season in Toronto in 1999, after one season in Hamilton as the Ontario Raiders. This included the 1999-2002 NLL championship games. Bowen stopped calling Rock games after the 2007 season.

Show business came calling on two occasions in need of a true to life sportscaster. Joe Bowen was the radio announcer in the 1986 film, “Youngblood” starring Rob Lowe, Cynthia Gibb and Patrick Swayze. A 2011 movie, “Breakaway” included Bowen as a commentator.

“Being Leafs Nation” came into production in 2018, however the COVID-19 pandemic hit, interrupting further filming, marketing and a release date. The film, originally planned for release in the fall of 2019 is the unofficial history of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Bowen appears in this documentary along with other well-knowns including Art Hindle and Doug Gilmour.

Joe Bowen has been the Master of Ceremonies or a guest speaker at hundreds of banquets and golf tournaments some of which include the Conn Smythe Dinner, London Sports Celebrity Dinner, Chatham Sports Celebrity Dinner and the Sudbury Sports Celebrity Induction Dinner. At home each year, Joe has been involved with the Brian Savage Golf Tournament. Joe has been M.C. for the popular Bell Mobility Golf Tournament as well as all of the Meet the Leafs Luncheons, Have a Heart Dinners, Maple Leaf Casino Nights and Maple Leaf Alumni and team golf tournaments.

Support for leukemia research takes precedence in Joe Bowen’s heart. It hit too close to home when his son Sean, only one year old, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). Sean’s family was told he would have a 95% chance of going into remission and an 80% chance of being cured. Ten years sooner Sean would have had only a 40% chance of remission and a shallow 20% promise of being cured. Sean was cured and Joe credits the “marvelous health care professionals and the great staff at the Hospital for Sick Kids” in Toronto. Through a relationship with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Bowen and countless numbers of dedicated volunteers have raised millions of dollars throughout the years. It’s not surprising to find Joe acting as Guest Speaker and M.C. for the Annual UFCW Leukemia Celebrity Golf Classic, which is now named in his honour. His trademark “Holy Mackinaw!” exclamation is now emblazoned on a Leaf T-shirt with sale proceeds going to leukemia research.

Joe was inducted into the Sudbury Kinsmen Sports Hall of Fame in June of 1999, and received the Fred Sgambati award from the Canadian Childrens Foundation in 1988.

On November 12, 2018 the Hockey Hall of Fame inducted Joe into the media wing and presented him with the 2018 Foster Hewitt Memorial Award which is presented to members of the radio and television industry for their outstanding contributions to their profession and the game of hockey.

Additional highlights of his career include doing the blow-by-blow of Muhammad Ali’s last fight and the Trevor Berbick vs Larry Holmes World Title Fight. His most memorable call was Nikolai Borschevsky’s overtime goal against Detroit in the 1993 playoffs. Bowen regards the lockouts as the low points of his career.

Bowen’s heavy involvement as coach with minor hockey and baseball spans over nearly 15 years. Joe is credited with guiding the Markham Thunder to an All-Ontario Minor Novice Title in 1990. He was also a co-coach of the Thunder on the All-Ontario Novice Team in 1993. He managed the Markham Mariners to an all Ontario Peewee baseball title.

Joe Bowen has even appeared in a television commercial endorsing Harvey’s Angus Burger with his signature catchphrase “Holy Mackinaw!” lauding the “bigger” size. Bowen has also voiced several Harvey’s commercials.

In an interview just prior to his 3,000th game, Bowen commenting on his future said he would “like to do at least five or six more years”. True to his words, in 2018, Joe and Jim Ralph signed a five-year radio deal with TSN and Sportsnet. Not surprisingly, Bowen is hoping to call a Stanley Cup final someday!

Joe Bowen also inherited from his father, a remarkable love for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, a National Collegiate Athletic Association football team representing the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Bowen recollects as a child they watched Lindsay Nelson and Notre Dame highlights on Sunday mornings and any of the bowl games available for viewing such as on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. The Bowen family has made many a motorhome trip over the years to watch the team in action. The Bowen’s have always felt something special at Notre Dame. The university’s history is deep and enriched and as its web site proclaims, “The research taking place here and the spirit that exists here are reflections of a past marked by firsts and faith.” The Indiana Legislature officially chartered the school on January 15, 1844. With each visit to the university Joe finds solace in visiting The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, a popular and special place in which people spend a few quiet moments in prayer, thought and tranquility. This is one place, with the exception of his father’s gravesite Joe makes sure he visits and has, as he describes, a nice long conversation with his dad.

Bowen’s love for the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League lead to the purchase of shares in the team. Each of his four sons has one and Joe holds on to his own. He lightheartedly refers to their collective ownership as the “Markham Ownership Group” of the Wisconsin team!

Joe acquired the nickname “Bonsie” from a friend and colleague Bill Watters in friendly retaliation to a nickname Joe gave Bill - “Wilbur”! In addition to being a former assistant general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Bill is a Canadian sports media personality.

Outside of his career Joe’s special interests are, of course his family, old-timers hockey, slow-pitch and golf. Today, Joe’s four sons are successful in their own right. Liam is The Operations Manager at Toyota in Toronto. Derek is a sales representative for Harding Display also in Toronto. Sean works for Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) Broadcast Content and David is enrolled in the Sports Administration Program at Laurentian University in Sudbury.

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