July 24, 2015
To understand how Stan Jonathan inherited his second-to-none work ethic, you just have to look at his childhood.
Jonathan was raised as the sixth child in a family of 14 on the Six Nations' Reserve in Ontario. Life was hard although his dad - one of his biggest boosters - earned a good living on "the high steel". Stan himself actually worked on the high steel, as a rigger, building apartment and office towers in the U.S. and Canada. This of course was a very hazardous job.
"I did it for four summers from the time I was 16. I was scared the first couple of times I went up. But soon I learned it wasn't all that dangerous if you followed the safety precautions. But it's just like hockey: Get careless and you can get hurt," Stan said.
Stan worked hard, and always got the job done, whether it was at the construction site or on the ice. And he received high praise.
"Stanley reminded me of my pet dog, Blue, a bull terrier. They were both relatively small but enormously tough. I liked Stanley so much that I took a beautiful painting of Blue from home and had it hung directly above Jonathan's locker."
These words come from Don Cherry's autobiography "Grapes". And in the book he continues:
"One day Stanley's father was visiting Boston and was introduced to me in my office. 'You've got a great son there, Mr. Jonathan,' I said. 'He reminds me of my dog, Blue.' Old man Jonathan was aghast. Comparing his son to a dog. Well, this big Indian stared at me until I thought I was going to get scalped. I had a lot of fast explaining there or I would have gone the way of General Custer. If I had had the time I would have explained to Mr. Jonathan that Blue was not only my pet, but also my alter-ego."
It's easy to understand Cherry's fondness for this little fireplug who some consider to be the best pound for pound fighter of all time. Just 5'8" 175lbs, this full-blooded Tuscarora Indian played the game like a human bowling ball. He loved to hit anything in sight and loved to get hit as well. Stan was a strong aggressive checker and a streaky scorer. He went after rebounds with reckless abandon. He wasn't fancy but he worked very hard and made things happen all the time when he was on the ice.
When Stan played junior hockey for the Peterborough Petes (QMJHL) between 1972-75 he showed a lot of scoring potential, collecting 176 pts (69 goals and 107 assists) in 204 games. Stan's big break came when Don Cherry and Bruins general manager Harry Sinden went to Oshawa late in 1975 to check up on Boston's No.1 draft pick Doug Halward. As it turned out Halward was injured in the game that they went to see. Instead, as the game progressed Cherry noticed a feisty little player named Stan Jonathan.
"I couldn't help noticing this rugged little Indian. He didn't play an exceptional game, but there was something about him that made me take notice," Cherry said, and continued. "I didn't say much about Jonathan to Harry, but I filed his name in the back of my mind for future reference and at draft time I called Harry aside and said: "Do you think you could get me one hockey player?"
"Harry was not as impressed as I was and bypassed Jonathan on the first, second, and third picks. We finally got him the fourth time (in the 5th round) around and sent him to Dayton Gems of IHL. A year later he made our team. Of all my discoveries, Jonathan is the one in which I take the most pride."
In Dayton (1975-76) Stan played for a $8,000 salary and did it very well. He led all playoff scorers with 13 goals and 21 points in 15 games. The following season Stan managed to crack the Bruins lineup and immediately became a crowd favorite in Boston. In his first NHL fight he completely destroyed Chicago's defenseman Keith Magnuson who was a big, willing 2nd tier fighter. Some of his other victims included Dave "The Hammer" Schultz and Andre "Moose" Dupont.
But Stan didn't just fight. In his first year he led the NHL in shooting percentage (23.9 %) as he scored an impressive 17 goals on 71 shots.
Late in his rookie season Stan was placed on Jean Ratelle's left flank. Ratelle, a future Hall of Famer, was a textbook player who used to feather his passes over to his wings.
"Who wouldn't want to play for a centerman like Jean Ratelle?," Stan said as a rookie. "Ratelle just has some fantastic moves. There's one Jean makes coming in on the defense. Really it puzzles the defenseman. If they move at him one way, he dumps a pass to me or to the right side. If the defense plays wide for the pass, well then Jean just keeps going in on the goalkeeper. Incredible!" Stan said admiringly.
In his sophomore season (1977-78) Stan had a 22.3 shooting % (among top 10 in NHL) scoring a career high 27 goals and 52 points in 68 games.
Stan is however mostly remembered for his classic and brutal fight on May 21, 1978. It was game 4 of the Stanley Cup final between Boston and their archrival Montreal. Right from the start of the game Canadiens coach Scotty Bowman wanted to deliver a "non-nonsense" message. So he sent out a bunch of big fellows: Pierre Bouchard (6'2", 205 Ibs), Gilles Lupien (6'6", 210 Ibs) and Rick Chartraw (6'2", 210 Ibs) among others. Cherry countered with Terry O'Reilly, John Wensink and Stan Jonathan.
At the 6 minute mark of the first period it was obvious that all hell would break lose. Stan and Pierre Bouchard were side by side. Stan gave Pierre a "gentle" shot. After that they dropped the gloves and started swinging. At the same time Lupien and Wensink squared off. At first it looked like the much bigger Bouchard was going to win the fight as he connected with the first blows. But Stan shook them off like water and took Bouchard's best shots without blinking. The guys traded punches at a tremendous pace. Stan who was leading with his right then suddenly switched to his left and caught Bouchard off guard. Stan carved into Bouchard's face with a series of lefts until the helpless Canadien crumpled to the ice, his nose and cheekbone broken, his face a bloody mess. Bouchard's reputation and career was never the same after that brutal fight.
Stan's junior coach Roger Neilson was in the stands that night.
"Jonathan is a little like boxer Joe Frazier," Neilson said that night. "He'll take two punches to get in one of his own - and the one is a dandy."
Hall of Famer George Armstrong, also a Native Canadian, liked Jonathan.
"Hey, I've known Stanley and his folks for years. Stan will fight, yes, but he doesn't look for trouble. He won't back away when it comes, either. He's a good, tough hockey player. And he'll score his share of goals, too. Besides, you just can't beat us Indians."
It seemed that Stan thrived during the games against Montreal. In one of his finest efforts he scored a hat trick against Ken Dryden during game six of the 1979 semi-finals. Stan's fearless style of play gave him some injuries as well. In 1978-79 he missed 47 games due to a fractured wrist and shoulder injury.
Stan lasted six full seasons in Beantown before getting traded to Pittsburgh on November 8, 1982. He played 19 games for Pittsburgh and finished the rest of the season in Baltimore (AHL). Then in April 1983 the Penguins returned the rights to Boston. Stan never played for Boston again and opted to retire instead, only 28 years old.
Stan always thrived on hard work. Something he learned from an early age.
"With a family as large as mine, we had to have rules. And hard work was one of them. If you wanted something badly enough, you had to work for it," Stan said. He sure did, earning every minute of his playing time.
A player like Stan Jonathan today would have fan clubs and be one of the most popular players around. Enforcers today would swallow a lot of blood from the fists of this Tuscarora Indian.