U Sports mens hockey trophy renamed David Johnston University Cup

TORONTO — David Johnston is now part of a select group of former Canadian governors general honoured at the highest levels of sport.

U Sports, Canadian university athletics governing body, announced Tuesday its mens hockey trophy is being renamed the David Johnston University Cup in honour of Canadas 28th governor general. The hardware had been referred to as simply the University Cup.

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The NHLs Stanley Cup, CFLs Grey Cup and CWHLs Clarkson Cup are among other championship trophies named for a former governor general.

“I’m humbled, honoured and flattered. It’s a wonderful tribute and I’m very grateful. Especially for me, the connection with the office of the Governor because there had been a long association of that office and sport going back to Lord Dufferin in 1871”.

“What an honour,” Johnston said at a news conference. “Its especially exciting for me to connect this with the office of the governor general.

In a news conference in Toronto held by U Sports, the countries governing body for university athletics, it was announced the Men’s Hockey Championship trophy formerly known as the University Cup will now be known as the David Johnston University Cup

“Weve had quite a connection to sport going back Lord Dufferin in 1871, Lord Stanley, Lord Grey, Lady Byng and Madame (Adrienne) Clarkson. Its wonderful to see that continue.”

Ron MacLean, the host of Hockey Night in Canada, served as the master of ceremonies.

Johnston was the Governor General of Canada for seven years between 2010-2017. He was also the President of the University of Waterloo for 11 years between 1999-2010

The 2018 U Sports mens hockey championship tournament begins Thursday in Fredericton. 

Johnston was once an all-American hockey player in the 1960’s while attending Harvard University in Boston.

Johnston, 76, a native of Copper Cliff, Ont., was an accomplished hockey player growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., playing with such future NHL stars as Tony and Phil Esposito and Lou Nanne. He was also the team captain at Harvard and earned All-American honours twice while completing his Bachelor of Arts degree.

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It was upon graduating from Harvard that Johnston opted to concentrate more on academics than hockey. Its a decision he doesnt regret at all.

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“It wouldve been tough if wed had the 30-team NHL but there were only six teams when I graduated in 1963,” Johnson said. “Our coach, Cooney Weiland, had coached the Boston Bruins (1939-41, winning Stanley Cup in 41) and knew the team well.

“The chances of making an NHL team as a 150-pound defenceman were not very good. I wouldve gone, had I been signed, to the Providence Reds team and gone to night law school at the University of Rhode Island and probably not done a very good job of either and (Weiland) said, Youve got a scholarship to Cambridge and maybe that might be a nice place to be. So thats where I went.”

He went on to say student athletes add so much to a college or university.

Johnson took over as Canadas governor general in 2010 from Michaelle Jean and served in that capacity until succeeded by Julie Payette in 2017.

Graham Brown, the chief executive officer of U Sports, said his organization couldnt have found a more deserving name to add to its championship hockey trophy.

“Its not just about having a former governor general, its that we have this governor general,” Brown said. “He epitomizes, in my opinion, university sport.

“I think it was fortuitous, or fate, that that trophy, and we have 157 trophies spread all over the country, did not have a name to it. Hell tell you its an honour for him but its more of an honour for us to have that cup named the David Johnston University Cup because of his connection to sport.”

Johnston was also critical of the NHL denying the link between concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease found in people whove suffered repeated blows to the head. Johnston said he endured three concussions within a five-month span when he was 15 — two from playing football, the other in hockey.

“Im actually quite surprised (the NHL) has been slow to face up to it,” he said. “The four other major North American sports have: football, baseball, basketball, soccer.

“I want my 14 grandchildren (seven boys, seven girls) to play hockey, my five daughters did. One doesnt take contact out of hockey . . . but we can take steps to make it a safer game and eliminating fighting is one of those. Headshots of any kind should be severely penalized. You dont have to finish your check by running a person into the boards when they dont have the puck.”

Johnston vividly remembers the conversation he had with his family doctor following his string of concussions.

“Our family doctor said, You wont play hockey anymore unless you wear a helmet,” Johnston recollected. “I said, Dr. Black, I cant wear a helmet, the boys will laugh at me.

“He laughed and said, Well, you can not wear a helmet and you wont play hockey and the boys wont laugh at you. Or you can wear a helmet, let the boys laugh. So I wore a helmet.”

Share Former Canadian Governor General David Johnston Image by: Andrea Cardin/NHLI via Getty Images

Former Canadian Governor General David Johnston has a long history with the game, and ahead of the University Cup this weekend, he spoke about his history with hockey and the concussion issue the sport is facing.

Former Canadian Governor General David Johnston never played for the University Cup, but at the age of 76, he’s not ruling out the possibility of re-enrolling in a couple of courses and suiting up. “Am I disqualified? Do I have a conflict of interest?” Johnston said. “I’m ready. And with a new pair of legs I’ll be really ready.”

If the No. 1-seeded University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds manage to win their third straight Canadian university hockey title this weekend, they’ll be the first team to win the newly minted David Johnston University Cup. Naming prominent hockey trophies after former Governors General is nothing new. In fact, the Stanley Cup was donated by Lord Stanley of Preston, Canada’s sixth Governor General. Lord Byng was a huge fan of the Ottawa Senators during his tenure as Governor General from 1921-26 and his wife donated the trophy to the NHL that recognized the league’s most gentlemanly player. And the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s championship trophy is named the Clarkson Cup, named after former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson.

But unlike the others whose names are on trophies, Johnston has a long history of playing the game. As a teenager, he counted Phil and Tony Esposito and Lou Nanne as his teammates. He captained Harvard University and had an opportunity to try out with the Boston Bruins after graduating, but chose instead to pursue his law degree at the University of Cambridge. He has been affiliated in one way or another with five Canadian universities during his career, so his passion for the game at this level runs very deep.

“It’s very exciting, but it’s especially exciting for me to connect it to the office of the Governor General,” Johnston said. “We’ve had quite a connection with sport…so it’s wonderful to see that connection continue.”

Johnston is also passionate about another issue facing the game and that is concussion prevention. He has been an outspoken critic of the NHL for its stance on head injuries and is steadfast in his feeling that the game has to do more to prevent them. Johnston himself had three concussions in the space of five months as a teenager – two from football and one from hockey – and was told by his family doctor he wouldn’t be able to play hockey anymore without wearing a helmet – something that was seen as a sign of weakness in the 1950s. He still plays the game, skates regularly on the Rideau Canal and at the refurbished rink at Rideau Hall and has grandchildren playing the game. And he doesn’t like what he sees.

“I’m actually quite surprised (the NHL) has been slow to face up to it,” Johnston said. “The other major sports in North America have. I want my 14 grandchildren to play hockey the way my five daughters did. One doesn’t take contact out of hockey, but we can take steps to make it a safer game and eliminating fighting is one of those ways. Headshots of any kind can be severely penalized. You don’t have to finish a check by running a person into the boards when they don’t have the puck. Those are sensible rules.”

As for the tournament itself, it gets underway Thursday night with the Brock Badgers playing the St. Francis Xavier X-Men and New Brunswick taking on the Concordia Stingers. The Alberta Golden Bears play the Acadia Axemen and the McGill Redmen (Mike Babcock’s alma mater) play the Saskatchewan Huskies Friday. The semifinals go Saturday and the bronze medal game and championship game are slated for Sunday.

New Brunswick is trying to become just the third school in history to win three straight national championships and the first to do it since Alberta from 1978 through 1980. And their chances look pretty good. They’ll be playing on home ice and they come into the tournament as the top-seeded team on the strength of a 24-2-4 record and an Atlantic University Sport championship. This season was supposed to be a rebuilding one for the Reds, who lost nine players to graduation, but collected a point in each of their first 18 games. Three players finished in the league’s top-10 scoring, including former Saginaw Spirit center Kris Bennett, who was named rookie of the year.

New Brunswick and Alberta have won 11 of the past 13 national championships and enter the tournament as the top two seeds.

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