Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson played for some of the greatest teams in hockey history, including the Canadiens of 1956-60 who won 5 straight Stanley Cups. He was a huge part of those great teams, but was always extremely underrated.

Johnson was a hard working defensive blueliner who played much of his career along side Doug Harvery, perhaps the greatest d-man in NHL history. Playing in Harvey's shadow, Johnson's talents and contributions went largely unnoticed.

"I was classified as a defensive defenceman. I stayed back and minded the store. With the high powered scoring teams I was with, I just had to get them the puck and let them do the rest," said Johnson, who wore #10 long before Guy Lafleur made it immortal.

New York Rangers' GM Emile "The Cat" Francis was one of Johnson's fans. "Johnson's trouble was playing on the most colorful team in hockey history. With guys like Maurice Richard, Boom Boom Geoffrion, Jacques Plante and Jean Beliveau in the lineup, nobody ever noticed Johnson. But he was the real worker on the team."

''He was never, ever really appreciated in Montreal, even though he played on all those great teams,'' said veteran Montreal beat reporter Red Fisher. ''The reason for it was he, and others with him, played in the very long shadow of Doug Harvey. The only defenseman I ever considered better than Doug Harvey was No. 4 Bobby Orr.''

After apprenticing under the great Butch Bouchard, Johnson settled in with Jean Guy Talbot as long time defensive partners. A slow-footed defender, Johnson rarely received any power play time but was a key penalty killer for Les Habitants. The 6 time Stanley Cup champ was also known for his physical, sometimes dirty play. A hard hitter who would drop the gloves when needed. However he also had a nasty reputation for using his stick.

"Johnson's on my black list," explained Stan Mikita, a long time Blackhawk. "He liked to hit you from behind. When he got into a fight he never dropped his stick. Instead of using his fists, he used his stick for protection.

Johnson escaped Harvey's shadow for one season - 1958-59. With Harvey hurt for much of the season, Johnson posted a career high 10 goals and 29 assists while earning the Norris Trophy. The Norris Trophy win interrupted Harvey's 8 year ownership of the award.

''Of all the great players I covered in Montreal in the 1950s, I don't think there was anybody who played with more pain when he had to,'' said Fisher. ''He'd take shots in his knees. They were ripped up, and he'd come out and play. Injuries didn't matter to this guy. He'd never make any kind of a big deal about it. As a result, he became a great favorite of (then Canadiens general manager) Frank Selke Sr. He didn't play too many favorites, but certainly, Tom Johnson was one of his favorites."

"In those days, you didn't have any players association to say you shouldn't play or you can't play. This guy came out and played like no other player did. I admired him a great deal for it.''

Johnson was an extremely durable player in his 978 games with Montreal and Boston. He likely would have played longer had he not suffered a serious leg injury in the 1964-65 season while playing with Boston. Chicago's Chico Maki's skate slashed a nerve in Johnson's left leg. The gash ended Johnson's playing career despite a feverish attempt to comeback by Johnson. Johnson, who also suffered two serious eye injuries, was left with a permanent limp.

Johnson was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1970. The election was one of the most controversial in Hall of Fame history. It was a bit of a surprise to some, including Tom. Eddie Shore in particular was so outraged by Johnson's inclusion that Shore threatened to buy back his own induction. Shore didn't appreciate Johnson's questionable stick work or alleged cheap shots.

Johnson's playing career was succeeded with a lengthy role in the Boston Bruins front office. He was briefly the head coach, including during the 1972 Bruins Stanley Cup Championship. He became a long time fixture as general manager Harry Sinden's bow-tied assistant for many years.

In all his years in hockey, Johnson has seen it all. Here's some of his memories:

On Rocket Richard: "Over the years, he was a great teammate because, first of all, he could produce and he was really good in the clutch," he said. "He had an incredible drive, and he had strength and he was solid on his feet. And every shot was on the net. He hardly ever missed the net, backhand or forehand. And his strength going around a defenceman was something else. I've seen two guys hanging on him and he was still moving."

On Jacques Plante: "He was great on the ice, but he didn't want anything to do with anybody off the ice. He was a different breed," Johnson said. "Jacques was one of the best goaltenders I've ever seen. Back then we used to have an old saying, in a clutch game, they couldn't get an aspirin by him."

On Bobby Orr: "He had everything, every tool a player could have. He had real determination and he had all the ability to do anything. He could change speeds so well while skating ... he had a great shot, but he didn't use the big slapper, he didn't need to take his stick back like most guys. He was a big team player; he was like Harvey in that way. Bobby would get just as much satisfaction out of making a good play for a teammate as scoring one himself."


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