June 17, 2013

Doug Mohns: Mr. Versatility

I have always had a fascination with players who can excel at both forward and on defense. Players like Hockey Hall of Famers like Red Kelly and Mark Howe immediately jump to mind. Older stars like Dit Clapper and Ebbie Goodfellow as well, though I can't say I'm quite that old. Lately we tend to see some good solid role players excel at both, like Jimmy Roberts, Ed Westfall, Marty McSorley, and Mathieu Dandenault. Toronto even drafted Gary Leeman and Wendel Clark as defensemen in junior but turned them into stars in the NHL.

That is far from a complete listing. But one name that I often see overlooked is that of Doug Mohns, a long time Boston Bruin and Chicago Black Hawk (at that time the nickname was two words) back in the days of the original six. He extended his career through the 1970s thanks to NHL expansion, playing with Minnesota, Atlanta and Washington.

Breaking into the Original Six NHL in the early 1950s was never an easy thing to do. Many of the game's greatest players of that era played in the minor leagues before making it to the NHL - even Gordie Howe. But not Doug Mohns. Thanks to an injury to regular Jack McIntyre, Mohns joined the Boston Bruins as a 19 year old straight out of the Barrie Flyers (OHA) junior team that won two Memorial Cups. The man they dubbed "Diesel" went on to a 22 year NHL career and never once played a game in the minor leagues.

Mohns key attribute was his versatility. He was that rare player who could play the game equally as well up front or from the blue line. As a lefter winger he was one of the better two-way forwards in the league, often assigned to checking the top lines in the league. When he dropped back to defense he could change the complexion of a game with more of an offensive look, especially in terms of rushing the puck out of the defensive zone. 

Needless to say, Mohns skating ability, both in terms of agility and speed, was the key to his game. As a kid he would put on skating exhibitions and compete in races and he earned the nickname "Crazy Legs." He was so good that by the age of 7 he was offered a contract with the Ice Capades. It was his skating ability that allowed him to play defense in the National Hockey League even though he had never played the position before in junior or youth hockey.

He also had a hard, booming shot. Mohns was one of the early proponents of the slap shot. Opposing goalies quickly learned to respect Mohns with the puck. The legendary Terry Sawchuk once said “Where did he ever get that shot? If I hadn’t been watching him closely he would have beaten me from the middle of the rink!”

Al MacNeil, a former player and NHL coach once said “Doug Mohns was one of the best players to have ever played in the NHL. Like Hall of Famer ‘Red’ Kelly, Doug Mohns moved from defense to forward with unbelievable ease. To do this at the NHL level was truly amazing.”

He was proficient with the physical game. He didn't fight often though he could handle himself. He played the body to make a play. What he may have lacked in size (6'0" 185lbs) he made up for with his speed increasing his impact. The injuries added up - including breaking his jaw twice in 12 months and a chronic back problem that plagued his later years - but he never changed his style of play.

Doug enjoyed eleven years with the Bruins. He played in five All Star games with Boston, one as a forward and four on defense. He was the leading scorer among the Bruins’ defensemen during his time there, and was the second defenseman in the history of the NHL to score twenty goals in a season, with Flash Hollett being the first. During his years with Boston, he played alongside the wily Fern Flaman.

In 1964 he was traded to the Chicago Black Hawks for Ab McDonald and Reggie Fleming (who also was known to swing back and forth between forward and defense). In Chicago he was initially moved back up to left wing, where he joined Stan Mikita and Kenny Wharram on the Scooter Line. They stayed together for five years and many would define them as one of the most formidable lines of that era.

Chicago Coach Billy Reay was especially pleased to have such a versatile playing in Mohns.

“Having Mohns out there is like having a third defenseman. He gets back very quickly and is a very good checker. When the Scooters were in their prime they were unbelievable. As good a line I’ve ever seen.”

Doug played left wing for Chicago in his sixth All Star game in 1965, and again on defense for his seventh and final All Star appearance with Minnesota in 1972 before finishing his outstanding career with Atlanta and finally Washington, as their team captain.

Doug Mohns played in 1,390 regular season games plus 94 playoff games. He scored 262 goals and added 498 assists in total. At the time of his retirement, only four other players had played more NHL games than Mohns: Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Tim Horton and Harry Howell. That is some very illustrious company.

Much to my surprise, Doug Mohns has his own website - DougMohns.com. Be sure to pay it a visit as it is very well done and interactive.

According to the site Mohns has done quite well for himself since retiring from hockey. He spent nineteen years in Hospital Administration with the New England Rehabilitation Hospital. He went on to become Vice President of Human Resources. He later worked at the Shaker Hills Golf Course in Harvard, Massachusetts.

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