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Montreal Canadiens goalie Lorne Worsley and John McKenzie of the Boston Bruins are pictured in this April 9, 1968, file photo.AP

Johnny McKenzie was a whirlwind out of the West, an untamed hockey forward who made up for lack of size by being an unpredictable agitator.

Mr. McKenzie, who has died at 80, was overshadowed by such stars as Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito when the Boston Bruins won Stanley Cup championships in 1970 and 1972. The team was known as the Big Bad Bruins in part for the mayhem instigated by the fiery right winger.

Over his career, sports writers described him as a “fireball,” a “superpest,” a “spark plug,” a “tough little runt,” a “cocky bantam rooster,” a “little, red-headed speedster,” a “disturber extraordinaire,” a “get-up-and-go guy” and a “scrappy little ex-broncobuster.”

He earned the nicknames Cowboy and Bronco for his time as a calf-roper on the rodeo circuit, but was better known as Pie for his moony visage’s resemblance to that of a round-faced cartoon character called Pie Face who once graced a chocolate bar.

He was listed as 5 foot 9 but stood nearly two inches shorter, weighing just 170 pounds. “He was so short,” recalls Fred Stanfield, his Boston teammate, “he used to have to jump at guys to hit them.” Despite his diminutive stature, Mr. McKenzie was eager to battle rivals for pucks in the corners of a rink or in the slot in front of a rival goaltender, engaging in hand-to-hand skirmishes in which elbows, sticks and gloved fists were weapons of choice.

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John McKenzie takes part in a celebration honoring the 1970 Boston Bruin Championship team prior to the game between the Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins at the TD Garden on March 18, 2010, in Boston, Mass.Bruce Bennett/GETTY IMAGES

He got as good as he gave – a lengthy list of injuries includes a dislocated shoulder, a skull fracture diagnosed only after season’s end and a ruptured spleen suffered in a 1963 game. (In the latter, he had been crushed by two rivals while taking a stick to the midsection, finished the period of play and was only rushed to hospital when it was noticed he was pale, drawn and near collapse in the dressing room.) What had been a choirboy’s face early in his career soon enough bore a gangster’s criss-cross of scars.

Despised by rival fans as a scofflaw, the forward was celebrated in Boston both for his hustle and his lunch-bucket disavowal of the rules of hockey etiquette.

“I like to take a run at somebody on my first shift just to stir things up and plant the idea that if a squirt like me can go after ’em – particularly if my target is a big star – then why not everybody?” he told hockey writer Andy O’Brien in 1971. “I try to act the same way when we’re sagging in a tight game.”

John Albert McKenzie was born in High River, Alta., on Dec. 12, 1937, and raised in the nearby town of Nanton. At age 15, he began playing junior hockey for the Calgary Buffaloes. In his fifth season as a junior, he led the Ontario Hockey Association in scoring with 99 points in just 52 games with the St. Catharines Teepees. He also accumulated an eye-opening 227 penalty minutes.

He made his National Hockey League debut with the Chicago Black Hawks early in the 1958-59 season. His linemate was Bobby Hull, a goal-scoring sensation, but Mr. McKenzie managed just three goals in 32 games and was returned to the minor-league Calgary Stampeders.

The Detroit Red Wings claimed him, although they already had the league’s best right winger in Gordie Howe. The new acquisition failed to show a scoring touch and spent time in the minors before being traded back to Chicago. Two more ineffective seasons led to a trade to the New York Rangers. After just 35 games, the Rangers traded the 29-year-old journeyman to the Boston Bruins for tough guy Reggie Fleming. The Bruins were Mr. McKenzie’s fourth team in a six-team league. It seemed like a last chance.

He got more ice time in Boston and began scoring. He eschewed the slap shot for the more accurate wrist shot and, after joining a line with Mr. Stanfield at centre and the veteran Johnny Bucyk on left wing, he enjoyed consecutive seasons of 28, 29, 29 and 31 goals. The line was especially effective in the playoffs and an essential part of the two Stanley Cup victories.

After seven seasons with the Bruins, he was left unprotected by Boston in an expansion draft. He figured if he was no longer part of Boston’s future, he might as well jump to the rival World Hockey Association. He got a reported US$100,000 to become the playing coach of the Philadelphia Blazers, more than doubling his Boston salary.

The franchise shifted to Vancouver for two seasons and he would also dress for the Cincinnati Stingers, Minnesota Fighting Saints and the New England Whalers. His rights were also sold to the Edmonton Oilers in a disputed deal and he never skated for the team.

Mr. McKenzie retired after the 1978-79 season. In 691 NHL games, he scored 206 goals with 268 assists. He had another 15 goals and 32 assists in 69 playoff games.

A few months after he retired, the Whalers retired Mr. McKenzie’s No. 19 sweater.

The player continued to operate a summer hockey school in retirement. He also worked as a banker and as a salesman of luxury cars. His struggle with alcoholism received some press attention, as did his later reconciliation with his daughters.

Mr. McKenzie died at his home in Wakefield, Mass., a Boston suburb, on June 9. No cause of death was given, although he had been diagnosed with dementia. He leaves Beth Romanelli, his long-time companion. He also leaves five daughters from two earlier marriages, as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

His appeal as a player lay in his ability to maintain a boyish enthusiasm for what can be a brutal sport. This was captured by the newspaper columnist Denny Boyd, who had served as a publicist for the Vancouver Blazers, who once spotted Mr. McKenzie alone on the ice at the Pacific Coliseum as he recovered from an injury.

“I sat down and watched McKenzie booming pucks off the boards,” Mr. Boyd wrote for the Vancouver Sun in 1992. “Now, all sweated up, he looked up at the clock, which wasn’t working, and I heard him say, ‘Bruins 1, Rangers 1, 20 seconds to play.’ He dropped a puck, won his faceoff and drove to the goal, his skates hissing on the clean ice. He deked, ducked a high stick I couldn’t see and whipped the puck into the net. And then this 40-year-old guy skated sideways around the entire rink, his stick raised, acknowledging the cheers of 15,000 empty seats.”

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