Thomas Christian "Tomcat" Johnson - Born February 18, 1928 in Baldur, Manitoba – Died November 21, 2007 in Falmouth, Massachusetts was a Canadian professional ice Hockey player, coach and executive.
In his first year of junior with the Winnipeg Monarchs in 1946-47, Johnson was deemed to have too many rough edges to be worthy of a spot on the Toronto Maple Leafs' list of 18 sponsored players. Following a match in which he scored the tying and winning goal on end-to-end rushes, a Montreal Canadiens' scout worked out a cash settlement with the Maple Leafs and placed him on their negotiation list.
The first year Johnson came to Montreal, general manager Frank Selke was unable to gain a transfer from the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. The young blueliner spent a year playing informal Hockey, taking a few classes at McGill University and spending valuable time around the Canadiens winning environment at the Forum. Beginning the next year, he made two brief appearances with the big club but spent the majority of his first three pro seasons refining his game with the Montreal Royals of the Quebec Senior Hockey League and then the Buffalo Bisons of the AHL. In the minors he impressed coaches both with his enthusiasm from the bench and his work ethic on the ice. He also improved his skating, which had always been his one major drawback.
Johnson stepped into a starting role with the Canadiens in 1950-1951 and impressed them with his eagerness and durability in playing all 70 regular-season games. He was, however, vulnerable to common rookie mistakes such as hasty decision-making and taking unwise penalties. Johnson soon became a stalwart on the penalty-killing unit, where the team utilized his speed and his ability to win the majority of the battles in the corners. One of Johnson's patented moves was to steal the puck from an attacking forward without bodily contact. This allowed him to feed a pass to one of his teammates while the opposition was still heading toward the Montreal net. Although Johnson rarely saw power-play duty, coach Dick Irvin often switched him to center if the Canadiens needed a goal late in the game. Johnson won his first Stanley Cup ring in 1953 when the Canadiens defeated Boston. He later played a vital role on the Canadiens squad that won the Stanley Cup an unprecedented five consecutive times from 1956 to 1960.
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.
By the time the team began dominating the NHL, Johnson was beginning to receive his due credit. In 1956 he was selected to the NHL Second All-Star Team. Three years later, he won the Norris Trophy and earned a spot on the First All-Star lineup. That year he was arguably the most valuable player on the team as he stepped into the void created when Doug Harvey was injured. Johnson didn't have Harvey's speed but he was a superb stickhandler and a consistent, accurate passer who rarely erred in his own end of the rink.
"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.
Johnson remained a key veteran following the glory years. During the early 1960s, he often formed an effective partnership with young Jacques Laperriere. Johnson's fortunes took a turn for the worse in 1962-63 when he suffered a horrific facial injury that damaged his eye muscles to the point that his career was in jeopardy. In a difficult business decision, the Canadiens left him unprotected in the Waiver Draft since it was unclear whether he could fully recover his vision. Boston took a chance and claimed him, a decision that would quickly help improve their fortunes, which had sagged in recent years.
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.
After retiring, Johnson accepted a position in the Bruins front office as assistant to the president and general manager, where he helped Harry Sinden build a team that would eventually win the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972.
Johnson was the assistant general manager for the first of these championship squads and was the head coach of the second.
Tom Johnson was elected to 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 won the Stanley Cup as a player with Montreal in 1953, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959 and 1960. After his playing career, Johnson was named on the Cup a seventh and an eighth time. His seventh time came as assistant general manager in 1970 and his eighth as the Bruins' coach in 1972. Johnson was a member of the Bruins organization for more than 30 years.
- NHL Second All-Star Team Defenseman (1956)
- NHL First All-Star Team Defenseman (1959)
- James Norris Memorial Trophy winner (1959)
- Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1970
- Inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in 1993
- Honored Member of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame
- Regular season coaching wins percentage leader (0.738, minimum 100 games coached)
- Coach, 26th National Hockey League All-Star Game