Watching with pride

Darcy MacRae
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Don Johnson helped pull Canada out of IIHF in 1969, stands by decision

The members of Canada's gold-medal winning hockey team likely don't realize it, but Don Johnson of St. John's played a vital role in helping them get to the World Championships.

Johnson was one of 10 men who voted in 1969 to pull Canada out of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) because of a dispute over the eligibility of Canada's pro players. Canada didn't send a team to the worlds again until the IIHF allowed NHL players to participate in the tournament.

Don Johnson

The members of Canada's gold-medal winning hockey team likely don't realize it, but Don Johnson of St. John's played a vital role in helping them get to the World Championships.

Johnson was one of 10 men who voted in 1969 to pull Canada out of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) because of a dispute over the eligibility of Canada's pro players. Canada didn't send a team to the worlds again until the IIHF allowed NHL players to participate in the tournament.

"When I see what I saw (Sunday afternoon), I say to myself, 'Boy, there's what you fought for, happening right in front of you,'" Johnson said.

The story begins in early 1969 when Canada was awarded the 1970 World Championship, with games to be held in Winnipeg and Montreal. As part of the agreement with the IIHF, Canada would be allowed to add nine NHL players to its roster. However, on Dec. 26, 1969, Canadian officials were informed pros would not be permitted to play since the tournament was an amateur event.

Johnson, who was president of the Newfoundland Amateur Hockey Association at the time, was called to an emergency meeting in Toronto on Dec. 27 where he and the 10 other provincial hockey presidents decided Canada's next move.

"I was hell bent to tell the IIHF they could stick their world championships if we couldn't use our pros," Johnson said.

Johnson's beef with the IIHF's ruling was that countries such as Russia and Czechoslovakia were essentially using pro players even if they were labeled amateurs. These countries' best players were paid to play, just as Canada's pros were, so Johnson saw no reason for his nation's best to be excluded from the worlds.

"It wasn't fair, it wasn't right," Johnson said.

Johnson and his fellow provincial presidents discussed their options for countless hours before finally voting to withdraw Canada from the IIHF until this country's professional players were permitted to play.

"It was one of our finest moments," Johnson said. "It was unanimously accepted by the media. They said it was about time amateur hockey showed some backbone."

As a result, Canada refused to play host to the 1970 World Championship and didn't play in the tournament again for five years.

The dispute was settled on July 25, 1975 when Johnson, who by this time was president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, attended a meeting in Gustaad, Switzerland and watched the IIHF vote to allow Canadian pros to play.

Organizations: International Ice Hockey Federation, NHL, Newfoundland Amateur Hockey Association Johnson's Canadian Amateur Hockey Association

Geographic location: Canada, St. John's, Winnipeg Montreal Toronto Russia Czechoslovakia Gustaad Switzerland

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