Johnson thrilled to join Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame
Larry Johnson is generally a pleasant man, but the smile that stretched across his face on July 7 was difficult to escape.
The longtime player, coach, and dedicated volunteer to hockey in Swift Current was inducted into the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame that evening after a lifetime committed to that game that he loved.
“This is tremendous to be inducted into the Saskatchewan Hockey of Fame and to be with people of the quality of Hayley Wickenheiser and Ron Delorme and Bill Hicke,” said a beaming Johnson during the induction banquet. “It’s just awesome.”
Johnson began playing hockey at the age of four and his coaching career spanned over four decades, beginning in 1974 and concluded in 2015.
“Those years I’ll never forget. I will never forget the day I started with the teams and every player. I think I have become good friends with all the players. You don’t see very many very often but when we do I’ll never forget them. They are the ones that committed to the game and helped me along.”
The induction banquet was an opportunity for Johnson to reflect on a lifetime worth of memories in the hockey world.
“There’s lots over 40 years. The fellowship that we had, I learned a lot from the young people. I hope that I was able to pass along some hockey knowledge to them. We were successful. I enjoyed every year. We were continually learning the game of hockey,” explained Johnson.
Stewart Valley’s Travis Moen played two seasons under Johnson on the Swift Current Peewee Kings before going on to skate for the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Montreal Canadiens, and Dallas Stars in the National Hockey League.
“Larry was an amazing coach for us. We were at that age where it was our first year of rep hockey and Larry was such a calming person, never really yelled at us, tried to teach us things the best he could. That was the first year we were really learning systems back in Swift Current. He was just a guy you could talk to, wouldn’t yell at you, made sure you understood everything. He was a calm presence on the bench,” said Moen.
Johnson famously cut Moen from the Kings in his first season of Peewee eligibility.
“We talk about it all the time. I was definitely devastated about getting cut,” said Moen. “Luckily they came and watched me a couple weeks later and I got AP’D and then eventually made the team. It was just one of those things. You can tell every parent in hockey right now that kids have off weekends and it’s hard to pick a hockey team, it really is, especially with the first-years where everybody blends in and it’s really hard to pick. It was obviously devastating for me, but I learned from it and grew as a player from there.”
Johnson won four provincial titles as a coach, two at Peewee and two at the Bantam level, but his impact was about so much more than wins and losses. Other coaches have won more games and provincial titles. Others yet have sent many more players to the NHL. But Johnson always used his role as coach to develop young men and women both on and off the ice.
“I think the best thing about Larry was that he treated us like we were grown ups, we weren’t just kids to him,” said Brett Dickie, who played Peewee under Johnson and went on to play five seasons in the Western Hockey League. “He wouldn’t coddle us. He was treating us like we were grown up people and kept holding us accountable, making us show up on time, those are all things that in our day to day lives as adults we learned from him.”
Shortly after playing for Johnson, Dickie was drafted 13th overall in the 1998 WHL Bantam Draft and suited up for 360 WHL games with the Brandon Wheat Kings and Prince George Cougars
“Coming into Peewee was when we really started to specialize on systems, positional play, really moulding people for certain parts of their game. Larry was the one who really got me to a stay at home defenseman, solid defensively, penalty kill, not so much the offensive side, which that wasn’t part of my game. Larry was probably the one that got me into that kind of game and that’s what kind of carried me on to the junior ranks.”
Johnson, Moen, and Dickie would win a provincial championship together with the Peewee Kings and a number of those players were in attendance to see Johnson inducted into the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame.
“It was an amazing season,” said Moen. “We had a great team. I don’t know how many games we lost that year, but it wasn’t too many. I remember being in North Battleford the clock beating down three, two, one, everybody jumping on the ice. It was such an amazing feeling, especially at that age, the first thing you’ve ever really won and you cherish it with your teammates, with Larry and Harv [Barker]. It was a pretty cool experience for a 12-year-old.”
One of Johnson’s final and most notable accomplishments was working with Bobbi-jo Slusar to establish the Swift Current Wheelchair Hockey program.
“I always felt that I had to give something back to the community and that was a way that I could do it. I felt that the young people in wheelchairs and people with disabilities would love to have an opportunity to play the game. It was easy to start and I enjoyed ever minute of it. They loved it!”
Swift Current’s Larry Johnson (left) was inducted into the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame.