Sports broadcasting is an intricate, demanding, and arduous profession. Those who take to the airwaves on an almost nightly basis project their voices to an immense number of viewers, instilling energy and excitement while always, especially in our social media-laden world, being held accountable for their actions. Every word spoken is delicately selected in order to provide an accurate summation of a specific play, while also attempting to encapsulate the raw emotion present throughout the course of a game.
With this being said, broadcasting is by no means a simple profession, as broadcasters must master the aforementioned qualities while appealing to their specific market and its devoted listeners. Of course, some broadcasters are perceived to be more successful in doing so than others, however, all viewers are, quite obviously, entitled to their own opinions.
Yet, when we look at those broadcasters who are most beloved by their respective fan bases, one name continually comes to mind in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area as a whole.
“He Sounds Like He’s Sitting in a Bar with His Buddies”
These were the words of Mark Askin, a Senior Producer with Maple Leafs TV who worked alongside the one and only, Joe Bowen.
Boisterous, yet calculated, intelligent, yet humble, Bowen has long been one of the most entertaining and beloved hockey broadcasters in the Greater Toronto Area. Having covered the Toronto Maple Leafs for over three decades, Bowen has enthusiastically guided Leafs listeners and viewers through a seemingly endless period of turmoil through his subtle humor, tact, and awareness.
Perhaps what has made Bowen so effective, as well as admired, is the image he has developed and the manner in which he is perceived. Never shy to meet with a fan or strike up a conversation with a stranger, Bowen has always made himself readily available in the community and, as such, is seen as a friendly, energetic fan of the game himself.
When listening to Bowen call a Leafs game, it is easy to hear the passion for hockey in his voice, a passion which is emphasized by skilled diction and a genuine reaction to the events which unfold before him.
On Oct. 12, 2016, Bowen was no different.
Auston Matthews made his NHL debut, and you may recall the events which unfolded. Matthews scored four spectacular goals in a 5-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators, becoming the first player in league history to record four goals in the opening game of his career. And, as the game unfolded, there was Bowen, calling all four of Matthews’ goals with an explosive level of exhilaration.
However, those calls were just one in a long history of amazing work by Bowen, who has cemented himself as one of the greatest broadcasters in the NHL throughout his illustrious career.
So, with that being said, why not listen to some of Bowen’s greatest calls? Of course, there is an immense amount of incredible work by the veteran commentator, so, here are five of his best.
May 28, 2002 – Sundin’s Tying Goal
In 2002, the Leafs found themselves fighting the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals. Down three games to two in the series, the Hurricanes had the Leafs on brink of elimination with time quickly winding down in the third period.
The rest? Well, let’s let Bowen do the explaining:
In the end, the Leafs wound up losing the game in overtime, and were, quite obviously, eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, despite the loss, Bowen’s incredible excitement and ability to communicate the raw emotion of the situation at hand are clearly apparent.
Mar. 18, 2008 – Toskala’s Blunder
In the midst of what was a lost season in Toronto, the last of which that would be played with Paul Maurice at the helm, the Leafs took on the New York Islanders in a fairly uneventful contest. With the Leafs on a power play just past the midway mark of the first period, Islanders defenseman Rob Davison picked off a pass and fired the puck down the length of the ice. Knuckling along the way, the puck dipped and bounced erratically towards Toronto netminder Vesa Toskala.
The blunder made its way onto virtually every highlight reel in North America. A microcosm of the Leafs’ recent history at the time, Toskala’s inability to stop a long distance volley, although quite clearly a difficult shot attempt, was captured perfectly by Bowen. Just like those watching and listening at home, Bowen was in complete shock as, helplessly, he too watched the puck bounce over Toskala’s outstretched left pad.
Jan. 24th, 2011 – Vintage Dion Phaneuf
Mid-way through the 2010-11 season, the last of Ron Wilson’s tenure as head coach, the Leafs took on the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, NC. After taking a hard hit to open the game from Tuomo Ruutu, Dion Phaneuf jotted down the physical winger’s number before seizing his moment to strike back. As the Hurricanes broke out of their own zone, Ruutu took a pass and headed towards center ice, when:
As Phaneuf hammers Ruutu, Bowen, too, explodes, perfectly capturing the monumentality of the collision. Sure, both Phaneuf and Ruutu are well-known as physical players and body-checks such as the one above happen fairly regularly in the NHL, yet it is Bowen’s personal reaction and shock which heighten the emotion of the situation, drawing in astonished viewers ever closer.
Feb. 15, 2011 – Grabovski’s Dash
Less than a month after calling Phaneuf’s massive body check, Bowen was at it again, looking on as Mikhail Grabovski undressed a pair of Boston Bruins defenders en route to a spectacular goal. With a heated rivalry quickly developing between the two clubs, and every contest a fierce and critical battle, Bowen, once again, wonderfully encapsulated the emotion present in Boston as the Leafs completed an unlikely comeback.
Down 3-2 to open the third period, Toronto not only received a goal from Phil Kessel to tie the game, but a tally from Grabovski with a mere minute remaining to give the Leafs the lead – one which they would not relinquish.
Oct. 12, 2016 – A Debut for the Ages
In what was arguably one of the greatest evenings of commentary in recent history, Bowen electrified his listeners while Matthews did the same on the ice, scorching the Senators for an incomprehensible four goals in his first NHL game. On a Leafs team laden with young and highly skilled young talent, the events which unfolded in Ottawa were truly unforeseeable, as it was the first time such a feat had been accomplished in the league. As such, Bowen’s reactions and calls were nothing short of excellence.
As you can hear, Bowen’s voice is filled with sheer excitement, joy, and a genuine reaction of amazement which, considering Matthews’ performance, is rarely heard throughout the NHL. It was perhaps these, most recent calls by Bowen which have solidified him as one of the best broadcasters in the game today. Of course, there are an immense number of individuals who narrate the game around the league, but, as you have now heard, none seem capable of doing so with such ease, enjoyment, and jubilation.
A long-time fixture in the Maple Leafs’ community, Bowen’s abilities, and voice, have become a reason alone to tune in and watch Toronto take to the ice.