Earl Otto Johansson
Born: June 28, 1931 (Fort Frances, Ontario)
Died: February 7, 2015 (Kelowna, British Columbia)
Earl Johnson was a rare player to have his name removed from the Stanley Cup.
The left winger played a single game for the Detroit Red Wings in 1953-54, yet had his name engraved on the storied trophy after Detroit went on to win the NHL championship. Three years later, when the Cup was redesigned, a new engraving for the 1954 Red Wings excluded his name.
That lone game for Detroit was Johnson’s only NHL action. He did not appear on the score sheet.
The 6-foot, 185-pound forward played junior hockey for Windsor Spitfires for two seasons. The Red Wings signed him as a free agent on Oct. 3, 1951, assigning him to the Edmonton Flyers farm team.
He played senior and minor pro hockey for 15 seasons on 17 teams in five leagues.
Johnson scored 37 goals in his rookie campaign with the Flyers, adding 26 in his sophomore season.
The parent Red Wings were a solid team, led by Gordie Howe, with depth at every skating position and Terry Sawchuk in goal. On left wing, Johnson was stuck behind young scoring sensation Johnny Wilson, as well as veterans Ted Lindsay, Marty Pavelich and Tony Leswick.
The Red Wings went on to defeat the Montreal Canadiens in seven games to claim the Stanley Cup. Johnson was included among the players engraved on the trophy, yet rookie Vic Stasiuk, who skated in 42 regular season games, was not. (Detroit also included stick boy Wally Crossman.) The Cup was redesigned during the 1956-57 season, with the latest winners engraved on the third band. It was during this process that Johnson’s name was left off.
On Dec. 2, 1954, Johnson’s rights were traded to the New York Rangers by the Quebec Aces to complete a deal in which the Providence Reds gave Camille Henry to the Rangers. The NHL club then loaned Johnson to the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League. He played parts of three seasons with the Canucks, during which he was also loaned to the Springfield Indians.
The forward, nicknamed Ching after 1930s NHL star Ivan (Ching) Johnson, finally emerged as a scorer in 1958-59 when he scored 40 goals in 67 games for the Spokane Flyers of the WHL. (He had managed just 14 goals with the Trois-Riviéres Lions the previous season). He scored 31 and 32 goals in following seasons with the Spokane club, which was renamed the Comets.
He played in the WHL’s 1959 all-star game and was named to the league’s Second All-Star Team at the end of the season.
Johnson, noted the Canadian Press, “always has been an outstanding puck handler around the net but his backchecking ability has been criticized.”
After three fruitful seasons in Spokane, he played for the Los Angeles Blades, the Pittsburgh Hornets, the Charlotte Checkers and the New Haven Blades over the following two seasons before returning to Spokane to play for the Jets of the Western International Hockey League in 1963-64. He scored 41 goals in just 38 games in the senior circuit. Johnson wound up his career with the Waterloo (Iowa) Black Hawks and the Spokane Americans.
After retiring from hockey, Johnson began using the surname Johannson to reflect the family’s Swedish ancestry. He settled in Kelowna, B.C., where he died. He was predeceased by Joanne, his wife of 55 years, who died in 2011, age 75. He leaves a daughter, four sons, six grandchildren, and a sister. Two of his sons are actors — Paul Johansson, a Daytime Emmy Award-winning writer who was a star player with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds basketball team, and Pete Johansson, a comedian now based in Britain.
The revised engraving of the 1953-54 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings