Alumni Q&A: Eddie Johnstone
Though not big in physical stature---he stood just 5-foot-9 and weighed 175 pounds during his playing days---not many Rangers played with a bigger heart in the late '70's/early '80's than Eddie Johnstone. As a result, the two-time 30-goal scorer was a Garden favorite in the six-plus seasons he donned the Blueshirt.
A scrappy member of the Rangers team that reached the 1979 Stanley Cup Finals and an NHL All Star in 1981, Johnstone recently chatted with Jim Cerny from BlueshirtsUnited.com about his Rangers career from his home in British Columbia, where he currently works in the construction business.
BSU: During the time you played with the Rangers, the Islanders and Flyers were probably your two biggest rivals. Which team did you hate more?
EJ: I'd like to say the Islanders because they beat us quite often and they had some really good teams there, but I didn't like Philly. I loved going in there and playing because their fans loved their players and hated you and that made it even better, more intense. But I disliked the Flyers most of all!
BSU: In 1979 you were part of that Rangers squad that upset the Islanders and made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. What was that experience like?
EJ: You don't like to say this, but for a lot of the guys it was their Stanley Cup just beating the Islanders that year. Beating the Islanders in '79 was one of the most surprising things we did because we weren't supposed to do very much and we just had a bunch of grinders, and (the Islanders) were so good. But we just got it done. Unfortunately we ran out of gas against Montreal (in the Finals).
BSU: You mention the grinders in 1979. How big a role did you grinders play in that series against the Islanders?
EJ: It was really the play of our muckers and grinders that set us apart. There was me, and Dean Talafous, and Donnie Maloney, and Bobby Sheehan---so many guys. We just outworked them, and got a couple of breaks and bounces. And JD (goaltender John Davidson) played great. In the end, though, I htink we just outgrinded them.
BSU: You scored five goals during the '79 playoffs. Was there one that was most special or memorable for you?
EJ: You remember them all, of course! But my first one was pretty special because I had sat out the first game of the Philly series and Nicky (Fotiu) played. We lost that game so I got back in there for the second game, scored my first goal, and played them all from there on out.
BSU: Fred Shero coached that 1979 Rangers team. What did you think of him, and who was your favorite coach to play for when you were in New York?
EJ: I had a couple of favorites actually, and they were so totally different. Craig Patrick was one, and Freddie Shero was one. Freddie only played me 30 games (in 1978-79), but he never made me feel like I was not a part of the team, that I was a Black Ace. And when I was in the lineup, he didn't sit me on the bench. He played me, and I had a regular job to do. That was just the way he operated, and I really enjoyed playing for him even if you never really knew what he was going to do! And Craig (Patrick) was so easygoing, never really got excited or raised his voice, but you just wanted to go out there and play for him, give it all you had. I really liked him a lot.
BSU: What was it like to be such a fan favorite at The Garden for so many years?
EJ: It was unbelievable, and they are the greatest fans in the world. They respected you if you gave them everything you had, and that's the only way I knew how to play. It just so happened they respected me for that, and I thought the way they treated me was great. For me, The Garden was the greatest place to play. The fans cared so much, and as long as you gave 100% every shift, every night, you were out there, they loved you.
BSU: Tell me about being selected to play in the NHL All Star Game in 1981, the first of back-to-back 30-goal seasons for you.
EJ: I'll never forget it. We were getting on the bus somewhere and Craig Patrick told me as I was getting on that I had been selected to play in the All Star Game, and I was shocked! We had Ulfie (Nilsson), Anders (Hedberg), and Gresch (Ron Greschner), all of these great players, but I was the one selected! What really got me at the time was that I later looked at the roster and I was the only one who didn't have 20 goals yet!! I'll be damned if right before the All Star Game we were playing Minnesota at The Garden and CP put me out there on a 5-on-3 power play to play the point. And Gresch comes over to me and says "you stay right here, don't go anywhere". Sure enough we win the draw, Gresch takes it down the wall and feeds me, I wind up and shoot it and it goes right between (Gilles) Meloche's legs, and I had my 20th before the All Star Game!
BSU: And how about the All Star Game itself?
EJ: Going into LA and getting introduced, I had a brief flashback to when I was three and just learning how to skate and falling down all over the place. I was paranoid I would step out there and fall down! First step was a little difficult!!
BSU: Is there a signature moment or memory you have of playing at Madison Square Garden?
EJ: I am very fortunate to have had a bunch. I can't really say that there is one that stands out. But 17,000 people chanting your name after getting into a fight or scoring a goal, you just don't get any better than that. I was one of the fortunate ones to get that a lot. For that I am forever grateful.
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