Hall of Fame defenseman Tom Johnson, who stood behind the Boston bench when the Bruins last won the Stanley Cup in 1971-72, died Wednesday of congestive heart failure.
Mr. Johnson collapsed while stacking wood for the fireplace at his Falmouth home. He was 79.
"If we all are allowed an ultimate friend, mentor, confidant, and teacher, Tom Johnson was all of those to me," Harry Sinden, senior adviser to owner Jeremy Jacobs and colleague of Johnson for 30 years, said in a statement. "The Bruins and all of hockey have lost a great person."
Mr. Johnson, a native of Baldur, Manitoba, won six Cups as a player, including five titles in a row when he starred for the Montreal Canadiens.
"He was a great friend," said former colleague Nate Greenberg, the longtime Bruins executive who worked with Johnson for 25 years. "He was a loyal friend and a great friend. I feel like I've lost a member of my family."
Mr. Johnson was a defenseman for the Montreal powerhouse teams that included NHL legends such as forward Maurice "Rocket" Richard, defenseman Doug Harvey, and goalie Jacques Plante. Mr. Johnson won his first Cup in 1953, then helped the Canadiens capture titles from 1956 to 1960.
Mr. Johnson had his finest season in 1958-59 when he had 10 goals and 29 assists in 70 games. That year, Mr. Johnson won the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman, breaking his teammate's chokehold on the award. Harvey had won four straight Norris Trophies before Mr. Johnson claimed the prize.
In 1963, after being claimed by Boston off waivers, Mr. Johnson played his first season as a Bruin, scoring four goals and notching 21 assists in 70 games. Mr. Johnson suffered a serious leg injury during the 1964-65 season, which prompted his retirement and left the defenseman with a heavy limp off the ice. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1970.
After his retirement as a player, Mr. Johnson remained with the Boston organization. In 1970-71, he took over coaching duties from Sinden. In 1971-72, the Bruins went 54-13-11 under Mr. Johnson and defeated the New York Rangers to claim their fifth Cup. In 208 games behind the Boston bench, Mr. Johnson recorded a 142-43-23 record for a .738 winning percentage, the highest of any Bruins coach.
In 1973, Mr. Johnson was promoted to the front office, where he became Sinden's assistant GM. Mr. Johnson served as Sinden's right-hand man until 1979, then served as the team's vice president until his retirement in 1998.
"Harry always said he was a terrific judge of talent," Greenberg said. "Harry always made a point that this was an inexact science. The key was to be able to tell who could play and who couldn't. Very simple. You separate the good guys and the bad guys. He had great confidence in Tom that he could tell who could play and who couldn't."
Mr. Johnson remained a loyal Bruins follower after his retirement. He lived in Concord while he was working for the Bruins, then relocated to Falmouth. Mr. Johnson drove to most home games, where he held court in the media room and hosted his beloved cribbage games with NHL off-ice officials.
Mr. Johnson was famous for his no-holds-barred ribbing of nearly everyone in the hockey community. Greenberg recalled that Mr. Johnson often had a witty remark for Bill Watters, the former assistant general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs who once worked for disgraced agent Alan Eagleson.
But Mr. Johnson was also known for his charm and friendliness. Greenberg noted that Mr. Johnson was just as friendly with Garden employees as he was with the power brokers of the NHL.
Mr. Johnson leaves his wife, Doris, son Tommy, and daughter Julie.
Funeral arrangements are pending.