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It was a conversation Wade Waddell always looked forward to.
As the veteran head coach of the Kensington Vipers, who are competing in their 13th Atlantic junior B hockey championship tournament in 16 years this week in Kensington, Waddell had the “privilege” of sitting down and chatting with the late Don Johnson on multiple occasions.
“One thing I always looked forward to at this tournament over the years was Don Johnson himself was always there,” said Waddell. “It was pretty sad when he passed away a few years ago (in 2012).”
The tournament honoured Johnson, who was from Newfoundland and Labrador, for his efforts in growing the sport of hockey in Atlantic Canada.
The event was renamed the Don Johnson Memorial Cup in 2013.
Inaugural Don Johnson Cup
The late Robert K. Cousins, a longtime owner, manager and coach of junior B and juvenile hockey teams out of Kensington, was the driving force behind the inaugural Don Johnson Cup in Kensington in April 1982. After the St. John’s Celtics defeated the host Kensington Bombers 5-3 in the final that year, Johnson presented the championship trophy to his son, Mike Johnson, who was an assistant captain with the winning team.
“The first one was in Kensington and that was one thing you looked forward to from Don was his story of presenting the trophy to his son,” said Waddell. “He actually gave us a picture of himself presenting the trophy to his son and I think that is up at the Community Gardens (now Credit Union Centre) right now.”
Longtime Vipers owner Pat McIver also has fond memories of Johnson.
“I became pretty close with Don as we were probably at eight or nine Don Johnson Cups together,” recalled McIver. “He had a pretty good story each year about the captain coming to meet him at centre ice to get the trophy and how proud he was of the first one in Kensington to be able to present it to his son.
“It was really, really great to know him.”
Waddell says it is a very special feeling to win a Don Johnson Cup. The Vipers have experienced that twice – in Montague in 2011 and in Moncton, N.B., in 2013.
“At the awards dinner, one thing Don always did say was, ‘At quarter-after-three on Sunday afternoon I will be standing at centre ice and whatever captain I will be seeing then will depend on you.’
“It was always something that rang true. I remember when (Kensington captain) Jeff Costain went and got that trophy from him for our first Don Johnson Cup, it was a pretty special moment.”
Waddell noted Johnson would always share a message with the winning captain during the post-game presentation.
“Whenever he presented the trophy he would get emotional because it brought back the memory of him presenting it to his son back in 1982,” said Waddell. “He always had a word with the captain and he had a word with Jeff that year. Jeff is a pretty hard-core fella, but I even think he was touched by what Don told him at centre ice that year.”
Waddell noted Johnson was always around, very accessible and loved talking hockey with people of all ages.
“Don always kind of lingered in the lobby and you could go up to him and chat,” said Waddell. “He had his opinions on how you played the game.
“He played the game himself at a pretty high level. I really enjoyed talking to him about that. I remember the first time I talked to him we sat and talked for a good 40 minutes and we laughed.
“With the players coming in and out, he remembered certain plays that they did on the ice and he would have a word with them. If he thought someone did something dirty out there he wasn’t beyond telling the player, too.”
Waddell noted the speech Johnson gave at the awards dinner every year is something he wishes everybody could have heard at least once.
“Something I looked forward to year after year was hearing Don Johnson’s speech,” said Waddell. “It was so motivating.
“Without any exaggeration, it was probably the best speech I’ve ever heard. It was motivational, funny and had every element of a speech you would want to hear.
“He had a way of connecting with the youth. That is one thing I miss about the Don Johnson Cup now.”
Highlights of Don Johnson’s career in sports:
President of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association from 1975 to 1979.
Became an honoured life member of Hockey Canada in 1982.
Served as chairman of the 1978 International Ice Hockey Federation world junior hockey championship in Montreal. This was the first world junior championship to ever be held in Canada.
Life member of Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador, Softball Newfoundland and Labrador and Sport Newfoundland and Labrador.
Inducted into Newfoundland and Labrador Hockey Hall of Fame and Canada Games Council Hall of Honour.