Blind River Beavers Cochrane Crunch Elliot Lake Red Wings Espanola Express French River Rapids Greater Sudbury Cubs Hearst Lumberjacks Kirkland Lake Gold Miners Powassan Voodoos Soo Eagles Soo Thunderbirds Timmins Rock | Hockey Canada Canadian Junior Hockey League Northern Ontario Hockey Association


Wolf Tracks: Bowen’s magnificent Sunday

Exactly what the goaltending situation looks like the rest of the season for the Sudbury Wolves is anyone’s guess. But for at least one day, David Bowen was the king of the castle.

Jeff Giffen For The Sudbury Star
More from Jeff Giffen For The Sudbury Star

His 26-save shutout against the top-ranked Ottawa 67’s on Sunday is possibly the most shockingly impressive performance we’ve ever seen in the Wolves crease.

I mean, the slim, 6-foot-2, 177-pound puck-stopper has been lights out for the Rayside-Balfour Canadians in the NOJHL since returning from a brief stint with Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. But there’s a big difference between facing the Espanola Express or French River Rapids and locking horns with a 67’s team that appears destined to win the Hamilton Spectator Trophy as the OHL’s regular-season champions for the second year in a row and fifth time in franchise history.

Keep in mind, it was also the 19-year-old Bowen’s first start in the OHL this season. Going into Wednesday’s game in North Bay, Bowen was officially 1-0-0-0, with a 0.00 goals-against average and a save percentage of 1.00.

The Unionville, Ont. native had the hometown crowd in a frenzy on Sunday, starting with a few early saves that got their attention, and drawing increasingly vocal cheers as the game went along.

His best save might have been a glove grab off of Jack Quinn, the 18-year-old sniper who now has 47 goals on the season. It happened with the score still 0-0 in the second period, just before Matej Pekar gave Sudbury a 1-0 lead. As a right shot, Quinn cut to the net on the left side, quickly pulled the puck to his forehand and snapped a shot labelled for the top corner on the far side.

Had Joe Bowen been calling the play-by-play instead of watching his son from the stands, the save surely would have elicited a “Holy Mackinaw” from the local broadcasting legend and current Toronto Maple Leafs game-caller.

Asked if that, or another save was his best on the day, the younger Bowen preferred a more technical approach to his response.

“Yeah, that was a good one,” he agreed, almost scouring the save register in his brain to see if anything else jumped out. “I think what stood out (Sunday) for me was just my work ethic. Just finding the puck, because once you jump up a level there’s some bigger bodies and there’s some traffic that you’ve got to fight through to be able to even see the shot. Stopping it’s hard enough but if you can’t see it you’re not stopping it.”

“That was a good one (the Quinn save), but I was just really happy with the way I competed,” said Bowen. “I just never gave up on anything and it worked out.”

The word going into Sunday’s game was that Christian Purboo, who started in the Wolves 10-6 loss to the Saginaw Spirit on Friday, was under the weather. The decision to not only call Bowen up as a replacement, but actually give him the start, rests on the shoulders of head coach Cory Stillman.

Clearly, it was a hunch that paid off in a big way.

How much Bowen plays down the stretch will, of course, also be up to Stillman. But this is a coach who likes to reward effort and results, so the answer might be obvious.

The rules stipulate that Bowen is allowed to play up to 10 games for the Wolves as an affiliate, and that combines regular season and playoffs. Wednesday’s game in North Bay is Sudbury 58th in a 68-game season. Bowen could conceivably join the team in the playoffs, but only once Rayside’s season is over.

The NOJHL playoffs begin on March 4, but that’s the best-of-three division quarter-finals and the Canadians have a bye through that round. The league’s best-of-seven division semifinals begin March 11. So while it’s possible the Canadians could be done around the time the OHL playoffs begin near the end of March, the standings would suggest otherwise.

Rayside is first in the West Division, with a record of 38-10-3-2, which likely means they’ll play into April. Bowen is a veteran goalie for the Canadians on a young team that features a number of players who could be Wolves next season. They’d love it if you go check them out in Chelmsford, and you’ll probably be glad you did.    

To keep things in perspective, Sunday’s goose-egg was just one game. One magnificent performance, mind you, but the challenge for all goaltenders is to be that good consistently.

Bowen didn’t have great numbers in the pre-season for the Wolves and didn’t stay in Quebec for long. So he admittedly didn’t expect to get another chance at the major-junior level, but when that opportunity presented itself, he did exactly what his dad told him to do — do something special with it.

Whatever path his hockey career takes from here, Bowen’s determination and perseverance will serve him well in the future. His quote regarding Sunday’s game reads the same as his season as a whole — he never gave up and it worked out.

Jeff Giffen’s Wolf Tracks column runs weekly during the hockey season.