TORONTO -- Some of hockey's biggest names gathered at Air Canada Centre on Wednesday to pay tribute to Hall of Fame goaltender Johnny Bower.
Those in attendance included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Team Canada hero Paul Henderson, Canadiens great Yvon Cournoyer and Leafs icons Dave Keon, Red Kelly, Darryl Sittler, Doug Gilmour and Rick Vaive.
The entire current Leafs team was also there to honour one of the franchise's most beloved players.
Bower spent 11 seasons with the Maple Leafs and led them to four Stanley Cup titles, including their last in 1967. The Toronto icon hung up his skates in 1970 but remained a beloved face of the franchise and a symbol of past glory days. His patented poke check was imitated by goaltenders growing up in Toronto long after he left the game.
He died Dec. 26 at age 93 after falling ill with pneumonia.
Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said Bower was a player respected by teammates and opponents alike.
"I've seen videos recently of him helping a Montreal Canadien who had crashed into his net get untangled, I've seen even Gordie Howe put his arm around him after just losing the Stanley Cup to Johnny Bower and the Toronto Maple Leafs," Shanahan said. "That's what people thought of him."
The Leafs, in their first game at home since Bower's passing, wore jerseys with Bower's name and No. 1, during warmups prior to Tuesday's 2-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Four generations of Bowers including Nancy, his wife of 69 years, accompanied by Leafs greats watched a pre-game tribute from ice-level that drew a prolonged standing ovation.
Bower, who became known as the China Wall, was happily playing in the minors in Cleveland when he was picked up by Toronto almost 50 years ago. He said he only showed up to avoid being suspended for not reporting.
He was already 33 when he played his first season for the Leafs, but seemed to get better with age. He played 12 seasons in Toronto before retiring at 45.
"His road to the Maple Leafs and the four Cups was much bumpier harder and longer than many of us," Keon said. "And yet, he became the centrepiece of our team.
"Winning the Cup takes heart, but John was our soul."
Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976, Bower's No. 1 was raised to the rafters in Maple Leafs Gardens in 1995 and permanently retired in 2016 when he was voted the seventh best Leaf of all time in the franchise's centennial season.
In 2014, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner was an inaugural member of Legends Row, a line of statues honouring Maple Leaf icons.
The 48th Highlanders, who have played at Toronto's home openers since 1931, opened the service.
Fans sat in the stands of Air Canada Centre, with the arena floor reserved for family and special guests.
City of Toronto proclaims today, Jan 3, Johnny Bower Day. We're proud of Mr. Bower's lifetime of contributions to @MapleLeafs & the wider community. We mourn his death & extend our condolences to his family, teammates, friends & fans. (photo by Scott Alexander) #JohnnyBowerDay pic.twitter.com/cShZrPMmdO— City of Toronto (@TorontoComms) January 3, 2018