AT FIRST GLANCETom Johnson was an odd choice to be the Boston Bruins' coach when he was hiredin the spring of 1970. The Bruins of the early '70s were a rambunctious bunch,led by long-haired night owls like Phil Esposito and Derek Sanderson and arevolutionary defenseman named Bobby Orr. By contrast Johnson, who died at hishome on Cape Cod last week at age 79, kept his hair slicked conservatively andrarely was seen without a bow tie. He was humble too. Asked at his introductorypress conference about his Norris Trophy win in 1959, the Hall of Famedefenseman who won six Stanley Cups with the Canadiens of the 1950s explained,"That was the year [Montreal great and seven-time Norris winner] DougHarvey was injured."
Johnson wasunderselling his talent; he was a gifted and gritty player whose brilliance wasovershadowed by that of Harvey, a Montreal teammate for 11 years. Johnson, whohad never coached before, turned out to be a star behind the bench as well. Theteam thrived under his laissez-faire style—it was rumored that players decidedhow long practices ran—and Boston won a league-high 57 games in 1970--71 beforea first-round playoff loss. In 1971--72 the B's finished first again and beatthe Rangers for the Stanley Cup. Thirty-five years later the Bruins haven't wonanother Cup.
With the Bruinsstruggling in third place, Johnson was axed midway through the 1972--73 season.He never stood behind another NHL bench, but his career winning percentage(.738) is still the highest among coaches with at least 200 games in theleague. Johnson spent the next three decades as a Bruins ambassador andfront-office executive. "Tom Johnson did it all," CBC analyst andformer Bruins coach Don Cherry said last week. "He won six Stanley Cups, hecoached Stanley Cups, he won a Norris Trophy, he's in the Hall of Fame—whatelse can you do in hockey?"