As an NHL coach, Eddie Johnston was known to drop a four-letter word or two behind the bench.
As a GM, he said the language could get even more colorful, especially when dealing with deceitful agents.
As a player, EJ acknowledged that he was tough — not wearing a mask for a majority of his 22-year career and becoming the last goaltender to play every minute of every game in a season proved that — but joked that his single-digit jersey number was simply a reflection of his IQ.
I sat down with Johnston earlier this week inside an Italian restaurant outside Mt. Lebanon. Still loaded with wit and humor — and plenty of piss and vinegar — the 82-year-old shared memories of more than a half-century in professional hockey. Sitting over a half-eaten salmon salad, Johnston’s smile was on full display when discussing his superstar designated driver in Boston, the five times he has held the Stanley Cup over his head and, of course, that 1984 summer day when he announced that Mario Lemieux was the top selection of the Penguins. He wasn’t shy, either, about sharing his feelings when it came to the question of whether he “tanked” to get Lemieux, if he and the organization are responsible for the draft lottery or if he should share in any of the blame for the Hartford Whalers now calling Raleigh, N.C. home.
Johnston still resides in the Pittsburgh area since his semi-retirement after the Penguins claimed the cup in 2009. He golfs, drinks beer and watches hockey. He is a regular at PPG Paints Arena. He said he loves to give Sidney Crosby “knuckles” and still very much will lend his opinion to management, coaches and players — if they ask for it.