June 13, 2008

Ernie "Moose" Johnson

"As far as I know," Ernie Johnson recalled, "I was the first 'Moose' in sports history. Now there are dozens."

Although he started his career with the Montreal Wanderers in 1905, it wasn’t until he played for the Victoria Cougars in 1921 that he became “Moose,” courtesy of Lester Patrick. He was dubbed Moose because of his ridiculous reach, aided by a 99-inch stick in the days long before stick regulations.

A Montreal native, at one point early in his career Johnson was playing in the Montreal City League on Friday nights with the junior team, Saturday afternoons with the intermediate team, and finishing up his weekend schedule on Saturday night with the senior team.

After playing three seasons for the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, Johnson was signed by the Montreal Wanderers in the first season of the Eastern Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (ECAHA). In that 1905-06 season, he finished tenth in scoring with 12 goals in the ten-game schedule, and in March the Wanderers broke the legendary Silver Seven’s three-year hold on the Stanley Cup by defeating them in a two-game challenge series.

Before the start of the 1906-07 season, ECAHA declared that professional players could player with amateurs in the league. The Wanderers wasted no time and immediately signed Johnson to hefty contract. Along with Jack Marshall, Hod Stewart, Pud Glass, and goaltender Riley Hern, Johnson was one of the first professional players to compete for the Cup. They did it successfully too, defeating New Glasgow in December 1906.

Johnson remained impressive in the regular season. In the 1906-07 season, Moose scored fifteen goals in a ten-game season. In March of that season, the Wanderers traveled to Winnipeg to best the Kenora Thistles in a Cup challenge and after the final game, a Thistles player cracked Moose over the head, resulting in 13 stitches.

Johnson was named to the ECAHA Second All-Star team in 1908, the same year his team successfully defended the Cup three times before losing a challenge in 1909 to Ottawa. It wasn’t long before Johnson was in the winner’s circle again, as the Wanderers won the new National Hockey Association title and successfully defended the Cup against Berlin (now Kitchener) in 1910.

Johnson played two more years for the Wanderers before heading west to play for the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. His continued excellence on ice was rewarded with a near-annual spot on the PCHA First All-Star Team in 1912, 1913, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919, and 1921. His final year in the PCHA was 1921-22.

Playing in an era where equipment was not regulated, Johnson was well known for his 2.5 metre stick, which he used to perfect the poke-check. “The year I quit they buried my stick," said Johnson. "It was the longest stick ever used. In those days there was no size regulations and they couldn't take it from me because it was my livelihood."

Moose spent the rest of his career in the minor leagues, making stops in L.A., Minneapolis, Portland, Hollywood, and San Francisco before finally hanging his skates up for good in 1931.

An eight-time Cup champion, Moose Johnson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1952.

- by Jennifer Conway

Joe's Note: March 4th, 1921 was "Moose" Johnson Night in Victoria. It would prove be a night as long as the Moose's stick.

In order to promote the game against visiting Seattle, Victoria honored the very popular Johnson with a night, an honor of growing popularity back then.

But Seattle looked to run the party early, as Jim Riley, the baseball/hockey crossover star, and Frank Foyston put the Metropolitans up by 2 goals before the game was 2 minutes old. Both would score another goal each later in the game, but Victoria fought their way back, thanks to tallies from brothers Clem and Wilf Loughlin, Eddie Oatman, and Harry Meeking, forcing overtime.

Suddenly the scoring stopped. In fact, the game went another full 3 periods with play slowing to a crawl. Players were thoroughly exhausted - remember they rarely left the ice for a substitution back then.

After the sixth period both teams agreed to call it a draw. "Moose Johnson Night" would be a night Victoria hockey fans would not soon forget.

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