Thursday

Johnny "Black Cat" Gagnon

The Montreal Canadiens Johnny "Black Cat" Gagnon is a forgotten superstar from the pre-WWII days. Gagnon was a colorful player in this colorful era.

As a child, Gagnon repeatedly told his disbelieving mother that he would one day play for the Montreal Canadiens. His father didn't want him to play hockey, as he had a tendency to break neighborhood windows. Johnny had to hide his hockey equipment in the house. If his father found his sticks, he would break them immediately.

Despite his obvious talent, the Montreal Canadiens always shied away from Gagnon because he was so small. Standing just 5'5" and 140lbs, Gagnon's big break came when Georges Vezina, the Montreal Canadiens great goalie died.

Upon his death, Vezina was brought back to Chicoutimi to be buried. The Canadiens of course came to Chicoutimi, which was also Gagnon's hometown. The Habs approached Gagnon, but none other than Leo Dandurand, the president of the Canadiens, told directly him that he was too small to play in the NHL.

Gagnon pleaded with Dandurand for an opportunity.

"Mr. Dandurand, why don't you see for yourself how heavy I am. Before you leave for Montreal, come to my house and I'll get on a scale and you can judge for yourself," he told Dandurand, who agreed. Dandurand expected him to weigh in between 135-140lbs, like all the scouting reports suggested. He was shocked to see he weighed in at 150lbs! Gagnon was offered a spot in the Habs training camp right there on the spot!

"After Leo said good bye and left I took 5 pounds of rocks out of my pocket and threw them away," confessed Gagnon.

After a good training camp, Gagnon was sent to Quebec of the Can-Am league for apprenticing. He spent the next 4 years in the minors, 3 with the Providence Reds..

He joined the Montreal Canadiens in 1930, just as the Habs were becoming a true force in hockey. Gagnon was teamed with two of hockey's first legitimate superstars - Howie Morenz and Aurel Joliat - to form one of the greatest lines in hockey history.

The trio clicked immediately. In his rookie season Gagnon scored 18 goals in 41 games, plus a league leading 6 goals in 10 playoff contests. Gagnon's heroics helped the Canadiens capture the Stanley Cup with successive 5 game series victories over Boston and Chicago. That proved to be the only Cup team Gagnon would play on.

It was a bittersweet time for Gagnon, as his father was dying at the same time. However his father insisted that he stay in Montreal, saying that he could do him no good by returning home. Gagnon continued to play, but his father passed away after game 3 of the finals. Gagnon made it home for the funeral, and then participated in the rest of the finals with a heavy heart. In the Cup winning game, Gagnon scored twice.

"Black Cat" remained in Montreal until 1934 when he was briefly traded to Boston in exchange for Joe Lamb. At the conclusion of the season, Gagnon was sold back to Montreal, which is where he played next 4 1/2 seasons. He added a half season in 1939-40 with the New York Americans before ending his NHL playing career.

With his slick-backed black hair and his piercing eyes, he was astutely nicknamed "Black Cat." A small player even in his era, Gagnon played like a cat too - already to pounce on a scoring opportunity. He was as fast as a cheetah as well. A brilliant stickhandler, Gagnon also had to play with a bit of an edge because of his lack of size.

5 comments:

David Stone 9:23 PM  

Do you know his parents name? I am doing research for a grand niece of Johnny's in Nova Scotia and she is trying to find the name of Black Cat's parents...

David Stone 9:25 PM  

I am trying to find the names of Johnny Black Cat Gagnon's parents for a grand niece of his in Nova Scotia who is working on her family tree - I've search records around Chicoutimi and can't seem to locate a birth or baptism record for him...

GenRitchot 7:35 PM  

Jean Joseph Gagnon was born and baptised June 3, 1905 in Chicoutimi (Sacré Coeur parish church). I have his direct line back to Pierre Gagnon and Renée Roger :

http://sportetgenealogie.blogspot.ca/2012/12/johnny-gagnon-dit-le-chat-noir.html

John Pierre Quesnel 11:33 PM  

Johny was the brother of my grand father. I knew him personally. If you need to know more about him for a valid reason send me an email John.quesnel@gmail.com

Leslie Swift 2:36 PM  

I have information regarding Black Cat's parents. I know his great nephew. He would like to chat with you. Is there anyway I can get your email.

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