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.