Most people around Lynn, Mass. fondly refer to Tippy Johnson, who recently turned 16, as a rink rat. That's a high compliment in Lynn, a hockey-minded town. Tippy was blessed with this description of himself because he's one of the kids who hangs out almost permanently at the North Shore Sports Center, a place where the puck is furiously chased just about all year, except in June, when the roller skaters get a brief and grudging break.
Tippy, whose proper name is Lorne Johnson Jr., can play on the rink for nothing because he helps to scrape the skate-hacked surface after hours and lug the water tanks around to spray it into a glasslike gleam once more. And all this rink duty by Tip has brought results.
In the late days of August, the Boston Bruins held tryouts for young hockey potentials around Greater Boston. The top-rated were promised a week at the big league Bruins' junior training camp in Galt, Ontario—a place always clogged up with young Canadian hockey flashes. This year, Tip was one of the chosen—he and Cambridge's Don Rigazio (last year's Lynn tryout-winner), will be the only representatives of the U.S.
Judges of the young New England talent included all the Bruin regulars, plus Manager-Coach Lynn Patrick. He and his players rated the boys as they saw them: five points for their top choice, four for their second. The rink rat, Tippy Johnson, wound up with 23 points.
"This kid, Tippy Johnson," says Lynn Patrick, the hockey pro's pro, "is positively the best young player I've seen on ice in New England." He paused, took a deep breath, and added: "Matter of fact, I'll stack him up against the best kids I've seen in Canada."
What makes Tippy so spectacular to the pros isn't just his aggressiveness and his determination—though he's bulging at the belt with both. But according to Lynn Patrick, who's seen them come and go for a good many years, Tippy does naturally things that many big league players do just once in a while and sometimes never.
"HE'S A PRO ALREADY"
"For instance," Patrick says about Tippy, "this kid, when he's in a scoring position, always and instinctively has his stick on the ice. You look, sometimes, at a big league game, big league players. You'll see some of them with their sticks waist-high. This Tippy—he's a pro already. You won't catch him with his head down."
Tippy took up hockey when he was 6 years old, using figure skates borrowed from a girl next door. His father never discouraged him on sports—his father happens to be one of the all-time greats of Lynn high school football. "Moose," they called him, in the days when he played on Lynn Classical's state championship team of 1928. Lynn Classical, incidentally, is the traditional foe of Lynn English, the school that Tippy goes out to do-or-die for.
Tippy took his reward for being top man in the Bruins' tryouts in his stride. He went to Galt and spent a week there, skating against Canadian competition—which is no joke, in hockey circles. "He was up against kids older and more experienced," Lynn Patrick reports, "but he did all right, that boy. If he'd wanted to, he could have gone to school there on a scholarship we offered him. He turned it down because to play in the Toronto Amateur League you've got to be 17. That meant he'd have to sit out a year. He came back to Lynn like the rink rat he is."
LUCKY FOR LYNN
A lucky thing for Lynn English, too. This year their team is being built around the right-wing prospects of Tippy. The coach, Harold (Red) Foote, might have had a lost cause on his hands this year without Tippy Johnson. But with this 5 ft. 9 in., 165-pound bundle of darting trickiness on the ice, Coach Foote expresses quiet confidence that Lynn English might just mop up the championship of the North Shore League. It figures, he figures.
Tippy got his grooming in what he called the Pee Wee league of hockey. This is a league where you're out when you hit 15. With the Pee Wees, Tippy made three trips to the Midwest in national competition. In 1953, in Duluth, he won out as the best skater among those present from all over the country.
He has no plans for college. When he gets through Lynn English—and maybe before—he'll light out for Canada to become a hockey pro. And it just might be that Tippy, plus the Bruins' new Lynn tryouts for New England hopefuls, will cut into the long-time Canadian monopoly on topflight hockey players. Anyway, you can be sure that as Lynn English opens its season on Dec. 4, Tippy Johnson will be at right wing. And Lynn Patrick's Boston Bruins will be keeping track of how he's doing with that puck.
TIPPY ON SKATES IS A SWIFT BUNDLE OF DARTING TRICKINESS