Fischler Trouba

Legendary hockey reporter Stan Fischler writes a weekly scrapbook for Fischler, known as "The Hockey Maven," shares his humor and insight with readers each Wednesday.

This week, Stan returns to his popular feature, "Then And Now," when he compares Original Rangers star defenseman Ivan "Ching" Johnson with current hard-hitting captain Jacob Trouba.

When New York Rangers publicist Stan Saplin wrote in 1947 about bygone Blueshirts, he described Ivan "Ching" Johnson as "The Rangers Villain."

"When you talk about Ranger 'bad men,'" Saplin wrote, "you start and finish with Ching Johnson."

The same could be said for Jacob Trouba, the current rambunctious Rangers captain. A Madison Square Garden favorite, the 29-year-old defenseman is respected for his leadership and open-ice hits.

"Trouba certainly can be a changing force when he wants to be," Associated Press lead hockey writer Allan Kreda said. "He does it with his physicality and a booming shot. He's a lead by example type of player. That's never an easy job in New York, having to speak for the team, win or lose."

Johnson, whose alias was "Ivan the Terrible," confirmed his nickname by leading New York in penalty minutes (826) over a period from the Rangers inception in 1926 to 1937.

"And for good measure," Saplin wrote, "Ching drew more minutes in the coop in one season's Stanley Cup Playoff than any other Ranger."

Interestingly, Johnson and Trouba each sustained serious injuries in their rookie season and rebounded with even more vigor. When Trouba was hospitalized as a first-year skater with the Winnipeg Jets, he displayed his humor and determination to return by dispatching a tweet to his fans.

"In case you're wondering, the boards are not edible. I'll be back soon."

That same upbeat attitude was what Johnson's teammates found so endearing. One of his closest pals was legendary Rangers center Frank Boucher. In his autobiography, "When the Rangers Were Young," Boucher flashed back to their very first game at the old Madison Square Garden on Nov. 16, 1926.

The rough, intimidating 1926 Stanley Cup champion Montreal Maroons were the opposition and tried to bulldoze the New Yorkers, whose lineup was sprinkled with first-year pros. In one collision, Montreal's rugged forward Nels Stewart hooked Johnson over the eye with his stick during a clash along the boards.

"Blood poured from the cut," Boucher wrote, "but Ching crashed Stewart to the ice, then took five stitches and returned to the game wearing a white patch over the eye. Next thing you knew, he was helping us beat the haughty Maroons, 1-0."

A season later, the Rangers conquered those Maroons for the Stanley Cup. When the final buzzer sounded, Toronto Daily Star hockey writer Lou Marsh commented, "One of the heroes was the irrepressible Ching Johnson, who had many marvelous moments."

Like Johnson, Trouba is respected for his leadership qualities and pugnacity. Historian George Grimm, author of "We Did Everything But Win," compares Trouba's captaincy with that of Mark Messier, who helped New York win the 1994 Stanley Cup.

"Trouba," Grimm wrote, "is the best leader the club has had since 'Mess.' Jacob's idea of playing the game is to take a direct route to his target and arrive in ill humor. His open-ice hits have changed the tempo of many a game for the Rangers."

Because of today's high-tempo play, Trouba's torpedoes are even more challenging to fire. Vic Morren, co-host of the "NHL Wraparound" podcast and longtime hockey author and analyst, insists that "The Blueshirts have not had such a devastating open-ice hitter in nine decades; or when Ching Johnson last was playing. And, despite Trouba's critics, he makes a conscious effort to keep his lead arm tight to the body without launching into his opponents. His open-ice hits are similar to those bombs Scott Stevens dropped when he was a (New Jersey Devil)."

Jacob's blasts have been inspirational. The Trouba Effect was evident against the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 3, 2022, during a dismaying Rangers slump that had them 1-4-1 in six games and 0-3-1 in their past five home. It started with an open ice hit on Blackhawks forward Andreas Athanasiou at 17:11 of the second period.

This precipitated the two captains, Trouba and Jonathan Toews, exchanging unpleasantries. After the dust cleared, Trouba punctuated the skirmish by tossing his helmet toward the Rangers bench as an inspirational coda. The Rangers lost 5-2 and then responded with a seven-game winning streak and a 22-4-4 run over the next 30 games.

Such episodes explain why Trouba was the second winner of the Rod Gilbert "Mr. Ranger" Award last season (Chris Kreider in 2021-22) that's given to the player "who best honors Rod's legacy by exemplifying leadership qualities both on and off the ice and making a significant humanitarian contribution to his community." A season earlier, Trouba was co-winner of the Rangers' Players' Player award with Barclay Goodrow.

Virtually every season Trouba ranks among NHL leaders in blocked shots and hits. Or, said Rangers coach Peter Laviolette, "Jacob is a big piece of our back end and his leadership is tops."

Johnson had the same catalytic effect on the Rangers decades ago. Although he wasn't team captain -- Bill Cook was -- Johnson played like one. Every time he delivered a check, a patented Ivan the Terrible smile crossed his face.

"Ching loved to deliver a good hoist early in a game because he knew his victim would likely retaliate," Boucher said with a laugh. "Once, against the Maroons, he did it to Hooley Smith, who kept coming back at him and each time Ching flattened poor Hooley. Afterwards, grinning in the shower, Ching said he couldn't think of a game he enjoyed more."

According to hockey historian Andrew Podnieks, Johnson "was a crowd favorite for his hard but clean hitting and, as a result, he helped establish professional hockey in New York."

Podnieks pointed out in his book, "Players," that Johnson (5-foot-11, 210 pounds) and his defense partner, Clarence "Taffy" Abel (6-1, 225 pounds) put fear in the hearts of enemy forwards.

"They formed a wall of flesh, not easily penetrated," Podnieks said.

Johnson and Abel were on the same pair for the first three years of the Rangers. Trouba's most frequent partner is K'Andre Miller.

Johnson's penalty mark for one 44-game season was 146 minutes, coinciding with the Rangers winning the 1928 Stanley Cup.

During the playoffs, he totaled 46 minutes over nine games en route to the championship. He drew more than 100 penalty minutes over a regular season three times.

Nor was Ching particular about his victims. He was at his best in the fierce, fourth game of the Stanley Cup Final against the Maroons on April 12, 1928. One reporter described Johnson's game as "stupendous" and added that, "He took on Dunc Munro, Nels Stewart, Hooley Smith, Jimmy Ward and Babe Siebert at various stages and laid them all low."

Boucher wrote, "Ching and Taffy both rattled the bones of any Maroon who came near them and helped us win that first Cup in 1928."

This spring it will be Trouba's turn to prove that his slam-bang game can pace the Rangers to their first title in 30 years. If any Ranger can turn that trick, 'Jake's' the guy!