I played for the Fort Frances Muskies hockey team from 1982-86. We had a lot of success, winning gold at the All-Ontario championship in 1986. I had the opportunity to be on a team with great players, but more importantly, great people.
One player I remember well was Brad Johnstone. In 1986, Brad played the entire championship game in Oakville against St. Mike’s with a broken thumb. His glove wouldn’t fit over his swollen thumb so we traded. And he was a major reason we won the gold medal.
Years later, I spent an evening with Brad in Thief River Falls, Mn. He was continuing his education and pursuing his other joy in life—flying. We talked about the Muskies, what all the players were doing, and laughed about his broken thumb. Brad had a goal, a plan for his life—to be a pilot and an aircraft mechanic.
Brad was killed in an airplane accident last year in Alaska doing what he loved to do. Needless to say, we were all shocked and deeply saddened. Some of Brad’s teammates and I gathered to watch the 1986 game the night before the funeral. Brad Johnstone, number 21, played a tenacious yet smart game—broken thumb and all.
A few month ago, I read a letter to the editor in the Fort Frances Times from Sean Douglas, also a teammate from the Muskies. He proposed that Brad Johnstone’s number 21 jersey be retired. He is absolutely right, it should be retired in honour of the dedication he demonstrated in hockey and in life.
He was a successful hockey player, but more importantly, a successful man. A man whose life came to an all too sudden and tragic end.
I am not aware of the criteria for retiring numbers with the Muskies. I wish we were not even considering retiring a number to honour a player that has passed away at such a young age and under such tragic circumstances. However, I believe that retiring number 21 for Brad Johnstone is a well-deserved honour and tribute to Brad’s memory and to his family, especially his mother, Jane, who never missed a game.
Retiring number 21 will remind us all of Brad’s life, and his playing career with the Muskies. It also will serve as inspiration to all the upcoming young players.
They, too, may become successful hockey players, but more importantly, successful people, by following Brad Johnstone’s work ethic, desire to succeed, and love of the game.
F.F. Muskies (1982-86)