Jean Joseph "Black Cat" Gagnon - Born June 8, 1905 in Chicoutimi, Quebec – Died March 22, 1984 in Cranston, Rhode Island, USA was a Canadian ice Hockey right winger, coach and scout.
Gagnon grew up in a large family in Chicoutimi, playing Hockey with his local friends on borrowed skates during the winter months. His father was not happy about his Hockey passion, and would break his stick whenever he caught him playing.
Gagnon would later play for his hometown Chicoutimi Bluets of the Quebec Provincial Hockey League, and when he was 18, he left home, traveled to Trois-Rivières, Quebec on the train, and tried out for the Eastern Canada Hockey League's Renards. Gagnon would play in only 9 games for the Renards during the 1923-24 season, but he impressed with his speed and playmaking. Gagnon was back for the 1924-25 season, scoring 18 goals in 16 games.
Gagnon then played the 1925-26 season with the Quebec Sons of Ireland in the Quebec Amateur Hockey Association, and after seasons end, he went home to attend the funeral of another Chicoutimi native, Georges Vézina. Léo Dandurand, President of the Montreal Canadiens was in attendance and approached Gagnon about Hockey. He acknowledged his obvious abilities but reckoned that he was too small for the NHL. The "Black Cat" challenged him to weigh him the next day to prove his claim and judge for himself.
Tipping the scales at 150 pounds, the young man left with the promise of a tryout the next fall, stopping along the way to remove the ten pounds of rocks he had placed in his pockets before making the weight.
Instead of a tryout with the Canadiens, Gagnon was sent to Quebec City to play for the Quebec Castors (Beavers) of the Canadian-American Hockey League / Can-Am. Gagnon would lead the Can-Am league in scoring during the 1926-27 season with 27 goals (6 assists) as a rookie.
After the Castors season ended, Gagnon was invited to play in a exhibition game in Providence for the tidy sum of $100. Because of his performance that night, the Rhode Island team arranged for Gagnon to play for the Providence Reds for the next 3 seasons.
While playing for the Reds, Gagnon would learn the pro game from teammates such as Wildor Larochelle, Art Chapman and Gizzy Hart to name a few. In the 1929-30 season, Johnny scored 21 goals, 17 assists during the regular season, and then 2 goals, 4 assists in the 1930 Can-Am playoffs, helping Providence win the 1930 Henri Fontaine Trophy / Fontaine Cup championship as Can-Am champions.
Gagnon was then traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Gerry Carson, the loan of Jean Pusie and cash, October 21, 1930, finally getting his wish to play for Montreal.
Gagnon was fortunate enough to have the equally petit, but elusive, Aurèle Joliat, and the great Howie Morenz, as his linemates. During the Stanley Cup finals of 1931, his father passed away. Nevertheless, after the internment he went directly to Montreal to play against Chicago in the best-of-five affair. He was extremely tired but scored two goals and assisted on the game winner to tie the series at two games each. In the deciding game 5, Gagnon would score the 1931 Stanley Cup championship winning goal. Black Cat Gagnon was now a hero in Montreal.
In the 1931-32 season, Gagnon had a strong season, scoring 19 goals, 18 assists and finishing third in points behind his line-mates Morenz & Joliat. The Canadiens would win the 1932 O'Brien Trophy as NHL Canadian Division champions, but lost to the New York Rangers in the semi-finals of the playoffs.
The Canadiens brought in Newsy Lalonde a former star to coach the team, starting in the 1932-33 season. Gagnon played the next 2 seasons in Montreal, but was not getting along with the coach, as they constantly clashed, with Gagnon losing his temper and refusing to cooperate. Johnny always felt the former superstar picked on him.
Gagnon was then traded to the Boston Bruins for Joe Lamb, October 2, 1934. Johnny played 24 games for Boston, scoring just 1 goal, 1 assist. (Montreal also traded Morenz on October 3rd to Chicago)
The Canadiens fired Lalonde as coach after 16 games, winning 5 to start the 1934-35 season. Montreal then wanted Gagnon back from Boston, and negotiated a cash deal for him on January 9, 1935, and Gagnon finished the season in Montreal.
Gagnon was happy to be back playing for Montreal, and the Canadiens also re-hired Cecil Hart to be the coach of the team. Hart agreed to the job on one condition: that the Canadiens bring Morenz back to the team. Gagnon, Morenz and Joliat were reunited as line-mates, and Gagnon scored a career high 20 goals (16 assists) that season to lead the Canadiens. Unfortunately for Montreal, Morenz broke his leg during a game on on January 28, 1937 vs Chicago, and would later pass away due to complications on March 8th. Gagnon and especially line-mate Joliat were devastated. The Canadiens won the 1937 O'Brien Trophy as NHL Canadian Division champions, but lost to eventual Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in the semi-finals.
A benefit game for Morenz' family was organized for November of that season between a team of all-stars from the Canadiens and Montreal Maroons, taking on a team comprise of players from the remaining six clubs. Gagnon scored the first goal of the game and later added an assist plus a second goal, both in the second half of the third period to fuel a Montreal All-Stars attempted comeback in a 6-5 defeat.
Gagnon was a modest sort who gave all the credit to his two superstar linemates, Howie Morenz and Aurèle Joliat, claiming he'd simply pass them the puck, stand back, and get the assists. Gagnon could score too, 115 regular season goals, 11 playoff goals with the Canadiens.
Gagnon would play for Montreal for the next 2 seasons, and just prior to the 1939-40 season, Gagnon again appeared in a benefit all-star game, this time for former Canadiens player Babe Siebert, who tragically drowned while swimming.
Gagnon would be traded to the New York Americans for cash, January 3, 1940. Because he hadn't been with the Americans the full season, coach Red Dutton assured him he was not going to get a full share of playoff loot. He played one game of the post season, scoring 1 goal against Detroit, packed his bags, went home to Montreal, and never wore an NHL sweater again.
Gagnon played 454 regular season NHL games, scoring 120 goals, 141 assists, and 32 NHL playoff games, scoring 12 goals, 12 assists.
Gagnon played 1 season of senior Hockey in Quebec, with the Shawinigan Cataracts (1940-41) and then went to Nova Scotia to play for the North Sydney Victorias in the Cape Breton Senior Hockey League (1941-42).
Gagnon finished his playing career with Providence Reds during the 1943-44 season, the team for which he had played earlier in his career. He played 9 games at the start of the 1944-45 season, and then retired.
After his retirement, Gagnon became a coach for several local teams in and around Providence, Rhode Island, and Cranston, Rhode Island. Gagnon also became a scout for the Providence Reds for 13 years and the New York Rangers for 14 years. He was in part responsible for the Rangers getting the great goaltender Eddie Giacomin, scouting him when he played for the American Hockey League's Providence Reds and becoming friends with Giacomin.