By KARRE JACOBS Thursday, May 20 2010
In a sports world populated by prima donnas, L.A. Kings defenseman Jack Johnson is like a sheet of fresh ice. The team’s No. 1 draft pick in 2007 tabled his chance to become a millionaire at 18, when he turned down a contract with the Carolina Hurricanes, who drafted him No. 1 in 2005. The money couldn’t have helped him realize his dream to play collegiate hockey, which he did for two years at the University of Michigan — his mom and maternal grandparents’ alma mater. The choice seemed nothing but reasonable to the 23-year-old baby-faced, Midwestern-polite Johnson (an Indy native).
“I’m a huge Big Ten fan and always wanted to play at U of M, whether it was football or hockey. I knew you only get one chance to be a collegiate athlete, and it was just important to me.”
Johnson has that grounded way of understanding an athlete’s — and sports — place in the real world. If he hadn’t laced up skates as a youngster growing up in a Detroit suburb, and set himself on the path to a career in the NHL, he says, he would have entered the military, as a Marine or a Navy SEAL.
“Those guys are the true heroes. I play hockey.”
Which has been good news for Kings fans, as the 6-foot Johnson patrolled the ice at Staples, making his mark as defenseman who can score, and who had a hand in the Kings’ first taste of postseason play in eight years.
“It’s a long season, and the Playoffs are what hockey is all about. You lay it all on the line, and you find out how good your team is.”
Not quite good enough, as the Kings fell to the Vancouver Canucks in a
six-game series. This young team will have to wait until next year to drink a bit of bubbly from Lord Stanley’s Cup. Indeed, Johnson will have the summer to wonder what might have been. He has certainly considered the feeling of hoisting sports’ toughest trophy to capture. “I think about how I’d spend the day with it,” [as tradition holds] but he is reticent to share the details, worried he might jinx a title. (No matter that years ago, he touched the Cup at the Toronto Hockey Hall of Fame.) “Yeah, I didn’t really think that would ever come back to be a problem. I was a kid. You don’t think you’re really ever gonna hold the Stanley Cup at center ice.”
But so many childhood dreams have already come true. This winter, Johnson won an Olympic silver medal as part of the U.S.’s overachieving performance in the Vancouver Olympics. Those who watched the gold medal game against Canada likely noted the raw disappointment etched on the faces of the American players after the Canadians scored the winning goal in overtime.
“At the time, it was hard to take,” he admits. “We played so hard, and to lose that way. ... But looking back, I am really happy with my silver. It was the greatest experience.”
Johnson had a great scoring opportunity in the second period, skating from his own end in on Canadian goalie Roberto Luongo (ironically, the goalie the Kings faced in the first round of the Playoffs) and shooting the puck — right into Luongo’s pads. Of the play, Johnson says, “I just decided that I was going to try to make something happen.”
Johnson was also determined to take part in the Olympic Opening Ceremony. “I figured this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The NHL schedule doesn’t always allow for participating, but this time, the stars were just aligned, and it’s a two-hour flight to Vancouver; I didn’t have a game that next day — lots of things came together to make it work. I was lucky, and I wanted to take full advantage of the Olympics.”
As Johnson prepared to march into the stadium, the gravitas of this
tournament hit him. “I thought, ‘I am an Olympian.’ I was as excited at that moment as I was when I learned I’d made the team. Coming out and marching in, [with silver medalist speedskater and new pal Chad Hedrick and snowboarding magnate Shaun White] all I saw was the U.S. flag waving. I got an adrenaline rush, and at that moment, knew this was real, and I felt ready to play.”
When Johnson exited Vancouver, he not only walked away with the well-earned hardware, but he also sent home the mother lode of Olympic souvenirs: “I put all of my gear — my jerseys, my stick from my last game, gloves, helmet, my lockerroom nameplate — in a huge garbage bag and sent it home with my family.” He proudly plans to display one day his Olympic medal and jersey in his home.
Post-Olympics was difficult, Johnson admits. “It was a bit of a transition to go home. It wasn’t hard hitting guys from my team who were playing for the Canadians, for instance . ... Back in L.A., I had to become their teammate again. I was also coming back from such a high, having worked on the biggest stage, and it felt like it was over in the blink of an eye. I did have to regroup.”
Something he did only days after the Kings’ early exit from the Playoffs: Johnson didn’t return to his South Bay home to watch the Stanley Cup play out. Instead, he headed to Cologne, Germany, where he again proudly wore a Team USA jersey, as he and the U.S. team were fighting for an International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship. Unfortunately, the U.S. squad didn’t advance to the medal round, so Johnson may now be back in his beachtown home, where he says, “I’ve carved out my own niche. I don’t do the Hollywood thing.”
He doesn’t do the Southern California thing, either, as Johnson, who says he’s a good swimmer, never goes into the ocean. “I’m afraid of what’s in there. I’m a pool guy.”
He does occasionally head up to L.A., mostly when friends arrive and then Johnson plays tour guide. “I’m happy to take them to Santa Monica, Venice, the piers ... or I go watch some USC football buddies practice. But mostly, I hang out at home.”
Typically, in June Johnson returns to his second home to take up his summer job: He is again a student at U of M, and spends a semester in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his parents and younger brother, Kenny, 12, live. “I’m back, finishing my degree in general studies.”
When Johnson retires from hockey (“when I’m 40”), hopefully with his name inscribed on the Cup, he wants to remain involved in the sport he so loves.
“I think I’d could coach, or be an assistant or even just volunteer. I’d
like to help [the University of] Michigan’s college program in some way.
Again, fans see a young man who understands what’s important in life; the professional, giving back in some way, even as a volunteer, to the sport he loves. One wouldn’t expect anything less.
Jack and Sidney
BY: MARK GIANNOTTO
DAILY SPORTS WRITER
PUBLISHED JANUARY 17TH, 2006
The date was July 30, 2005.
The setting was the Westin Hotel in Ottawa, Ontario.
The event was the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
Like any sports draft, there were prognosticators projecting which player each team would select. And there were the naysayers who questioned the selections made by certain teams. But it's the uncertainty surrounding the future of an 18-year-old kid that makes a draft so interesting. No one is sure who will become the next great hockey star. People were even questioning whether the league would rebound from the one-year hiatus caused by the labor lockout.
But amidst all of the doubt, there were two friends who ignored all the hype and stuck together in their quest for hockey success.
Two of a Kind
Michigan freshman Jack Johnson and Pittsburgh Penguins rookie Sidney Crosby first met in the fall of 2002, when they began their sophomore year at Shattuck-St. Mary's School, a small private school in Fairbault, Minnesota.
The two aspiring hockey players were the lone underclassmen to make the Shattuck prep team. Johnson had starred on Shattuck's bantam team the previous year, collecting 35 goals and 65 assists en route to a 100-point season. Crosby came in as a player with a reputation well beyond his years. Many scouts were already anointing him the next great hockey star.
As the youngest and most talented players on the team, Johnson and Crosby quickly bonded on the ice and catapulted the team to new levels of success. The dominance of the two 16-year-olds attracted national attention to their team and a small Minnesota town.
"Sidney was so dynamic," said Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers. "I've never seen a sophomore forward like Crosby - ever. And Jack as a sophomore defenseman in high school, I've never seen anyone like him either. Even at that time, they were exceptional. I think people went to Shattuck to watch those two play. The attraction was that you got to see two of the next potential (NHL) superstars."
Both were able to ignore the extraordinary amount of attention and lead Shattuck to the 2003 USA Hockey Tier I Midget National Championship. Crosby ended the season with an unbelievable 162 points (72 goals, 90 assists), and Johnson ended the season with 42 points (15 goals, 27 assists), establishing himself as one of the most feared defenders in prep hockey.
The increased notoriety had no effect on the chemistry of the two sophomore superstars. Instead, their success only made them that much closer. The bond they created transferred onto the ice and became apparent to anyone watching their games.
"We had a chance to go see them at a tournament in Marquette because we were playing Northern Michigan at the time," said Michigan assistant coach Mel Pearson. "You could tell by the way they interacted with each other and their mannerisms on the ice that they were not only special players but good friends.
"On the ice at that tournament, the local team had assigned two kids to shadow Sidney and take Sidney off his game. He played through it and you could tell he was one of the best players. And that's how you could tell Jack was one of his buddies, because every time there was a skirmish, Jack was right there to make sure he was helping Sidney out."
Michigan fans have become accustomed to such actions by the freshman defenseman. Johnson has amassed 91 penalty minutes in just 21 games this season, and has served notice that nobody will get away with pushing around the Wolverines' freshmen-laden squad. Johnson's days as an enforcer on the ice began during his season playing with Crosby.
"Prior to (the 2002-2003 season) I was one of the smaller guys on the team," Johnson said. "I couldn't really check the other guys, because they were usually bigger than I was. He was the first time I kept an eye on someone, and because we were such close friends I didn't want anyone to give him a cheap shot or anything. I enjoyed doing it."
Crosby and Johnson competed against each other in practice everyday. Going against a player of similar talent helped to improve each player's skills. Michigan junior goalie Mike Mayhew, who was a senior on that 2002-03 Shattuck team, saw Jack and Sidney go at it all the time.
"Sidney saw how tough Jack plays and that forced Sidney to realize that he was going to be playing against players who are that tough at the next level," Mayhew said. "And I think Jack realized that he is going to be playing against guys as skilled as Sidney and as strong as Sidney."
Dozen's of Mom's Cookies
n and off the ice, Crosby and Johnson did not appear to have much in common. Crosby is from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia and was boarding at Shattuck-St.Mary's during the school year. Johnson is an American, born in Indianapolis, who lived in the Fairbault, Minn. with his family at the time. Crosby is a dynamic forward who would rather avoid physical play so he can create in open spaces. Johnson is a defenseman who can put points on the board, but also serves as a physical presence in his own zone. In interviews, Crosby is very soft-spoken and chooses his words carefully. Johnson is straightforward and outspoken.
But their different backgrounds only brought them closer together. Because of Shattuck-St. Mary's close proximity to the Johnson house, Crosby became a frequent visitor. The Johnsons welcomed him into their home because they knew that the adjustment to a new school was tough, and that Crosby's friendship meant a lot to their eldest son. The two teenagers created memories that are still vivid in the minds of the Johnsons.
"Sidney used to come over, and Mrs. Johnson made I don't know how many dozens of cookies for him," said Johnson's father, Jack Sr.. "But then all of a sudden, he would be on his hands and knees playing mini-stick hockey with our 7-year-old Kenny. And next thing you know, Sidney and Jack are on the floor playing each other in mini-stick hockey."
Ask Crosby about his memories from Shattuck, and he doesn't even mention hockey. His favorite moment with Jack occurred on the baseball diamond, not a sheet of ice.
"Jack was a pitcher for our high school team," Crosby said with a grin on his face in Chicago last week. "And in one game, the other team's pitcher threw a pitch that came real close to my head. Then the next pitch actually hit me. The next batter was Jack and when the kid threw another pitch that was really far inside, Jack charged the mound and started a huge brawl between both teams."
The budding superstars supported each other in any endeavor. The friendship that grew from shared talent on the ice had blossomed into a bond that could not be broken.
Friend or Foe
For Crosby and Johnson, their sophomore year at Shattuck would be their last year playing together on the same team. Each moved on to other teams and programs after their triumphant season.
Crosby went to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and played two seasons for Rimouski. During the 2003-04 campaign, he recorded 135 points (54 goals, 81 assists) in 59 games and led the league in scoring. He followed that with one of the greatest seasons by a junior hockey player in Canadian history. During the 2004-05 season, Crosby had 168 points (66 goals, 102 assists). Retired hockey legend and current Phoenix Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky is the only player to amass more points in one season during major junior league competition. Gretzky had 182 points during the 1977-78 campaign.
Meanwhile, Johnson went on to play for the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor. On a team with the best 17- and 18-year-old hockey players in the country, he led all defensemen in points and penalty minutes.
Even though Johnson and Crosby were apart on the ice, their off-the-ice friendship still survived. Different uniforms were not going to tarnish the special moments they had at Shattuck together.
"It's always fun when you go separate ways in hockey and in life to keep in touch with your friends," Crosby said. "(Jack) is obviously a guy that I have always stayed in touch with."
During the summer of that 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Crosby and Johnson trained together. Johnson went to Nova Scotia and lived with the Crosby family for a week. The two woke up early to work out before playing street hockey or swimming in the afternoon. But it wasn't all fun and games for the two. They were preparing for a draft in which they were both highly rated.
"We are both pretty competitive, so we go pretty hard against ourselves," Crosby said. "But we both try to make each other better. There were times where we'd be mad at each other one minute and then we're best friends the next minute."
When that fateful weekend came in July and both Crosby and Johnson were in Ottawa for the draft, they roomed together. Going into the weekend, Crosby was the clear-cut No. 1 pick. The Penguins had already made it known that Sidney was their guy. Jack's fate was less clear. The Anaheim Mighty Ducks possessed the No. 2 pick, but they had not decided whether they wanted to select a forward or a defenseman. Heading into the draft weekend, Jack was rated as the top defenseman available.
During their training in the summer and the night before in their hotel room, Sidney and Jack talked about what it would be like to go back-to-back at the top of the draft. But it was all for naught. The Mighty Ducks opted for forward Bobby Ryan. The Carolina Hurricanes then grabbed Jack with the No. 3 pick.
"It was all dependent on what a team wanted - a forward or a defenseman," Johnson said. "We knew anything could happen, so we weren't really worried about it."
Just like after their successful year at Shattuck-St. Mary's, Sidney and Jack went their separate ways after the draft. Sidney went right to the NHL, where he has become a star for the Penguins. Through 45 games, the dynamic forward has posted 50 points (21 goals, 29 assists) and is a leading contender for NHL Rookie of the Year.
Meanwhile, Jack decided to delay his NHL career to play for Michigan. Through 21 games, Johnson has 21 points (5 goals, 16 assists), tying him for the lead in points among CCHA defensemen. Considering their backgrounds, each player's decisions make sense.
"Jack grew up with his goal to play college hockey at Michigan," Jack Sr. said. "And Sidney's goal was to make it to the NHL as fast as he could. Sidney and most Canadians are more inclined to do junior hockey than thinking of college hockey."
But through all the different towns, schools and teams one thing has remained constant for Crosby and Johnson: their friendship. The two talk on the phone at least once a week and try to see each other whenever their schedules allow it. When the Penguins played the Detroit Red Wings earlier this season, Jack went to visit Sidney.
"The night before the game I went out to dinner with him," Johnson said. "He actually treated me to dinner, thank God. We just hung out and talked about what life was like for us now. He's still the same kid he was back in 10th grade. He hasn't changed anything. Watching him play was pretty neat, thinking that two or three years ago, I was playing high school hockey with him."
The success Sidney is having at the professional level has never made Jack question his decision to come to Michigan. It appears that Johnson is firmly entrenched as a Wolverine defenseman for at least the next few years. Instead of thinking about an early jump to the NHL, Jack is just happy for his friend.
"I know that we are two different players who have developed at two different rates, and obviously, he has developed more quickly," Johnson said. "And I'm in no rush to make the next step to the NHL. We respect each other's decisions, and I don't think it has affected our friendship at all. It's been fun keeping track of all he's doing."
Jack Johnson signs 7-year extension
By Dan Arritt
Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jack Johnson signed a seven-year, $30.5 million contract extension Saturday morning, then went out and matched his season high with three assists in a 6-4 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Staples Center.
Johnson's deal, which was announced shortly after the game, matches the second longest in franchise history. Anze Kopitar signed a seven-year extension prior to the 2008-09 season, 20 years after Wayne Gretzky signed an eight-year deal.
Johnson said he has been working on an extension since October. Although he has gone through stretches of poor play this season, Johnson said the contract talks were never a factor.
"It was actually kind of fun," he said of the negotiations. "It wasn't any burden at all. Go out and play hockey every night and try to play well and everything else will take care of itself."
Johnson, a Michigan native who will turn 24 on Thursday, is in his fifth season with the Kings. He was the third overall pick by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005, but opted to enroll at Michigan. After his freshman season, his rights were traded to the Kings. Johnson played one more season for the Wolverines then signed an entry-level contract with Los Angeles in March 2007.
He set career highs with eight goals and 28 assists last season, but is on pace to shatter his career assist mark, bringing his point total to 27 after the Columbus win.
"He's a young guy that's going to be a great player in this game for a long time," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "Those young defenseman are very hard to find, the guys with skill and talent."
The Kings are reportedly working on an extension with fellow defenseman Drew Doughty as well. Doughty, 21, was a finalist last season for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the league's best defenseman.
"I'm hoping that he and Drew Doughty can end up being the anchors of this blue core for a long time," Murray said.
The Kings have been successful in locking up their young talent with long-term deals. Following his second full season with the Kings, they signed right wing Dustin Brown to a six-year extension in October 2007. They also signed goalkeeper Jonathan Quick to a three-year extension in October 2009.
One of Johnson's biggest assets is his offensive abilities, particularly on the power play. He came into the Columbus game fourth in the NHL with 16 power-play assists and tied for seventh with 19 power-play points.
He assisted on a man-advantage goal by defenseman Alec Martinez in the first period, then added another helper on Jarret Stoll's short-handed goal, which gave the Kings a 4-0 lead midway through the second period.
After the Blue Jackets cut the deficit to 5-4 with 2 ½ minutes remaining, Johnson helped seal the victory when he assisted on an empty-net goal by Justin Williams with 30 seconds left.
Lombardi talks Johnson contract
Posted by Rich Hammond on 9 January 2011, 1:05 am
It’s been a busy night, with Jack Johnson signing his seven-year, $30.5-million contract extension and the Kings beating Columbus, so I’ll try to re-set the table a little bit. Here are the links to the items on Johnson’s contract from tonight, followed by Dean Lombardi’s extensive comments about the Johnson contract and an update from Lombardi about the progress of contract negotiations with Drew Doughty, who is due to be a restricted free agent this summer…
Question: It’s a bit unusual, but definitely not unheard of, to get a long-term extension like this done during a season. What led you to the point of getting this done now?
LOMBARDI: “It is unusual, but we’re still very much in a new system. Don’t forget, the object here is to watch these kids develop, and then put all of them within a (salary-cap) number that works. This is something we had been looking at for a while. I think it’s just the nature of the process, if you’re going to get ahead of this and take a realistic shot at keeping your young players together for the long haul. Quite honestly, this has been going on for over a month now. There’s two things that allowed us to pursue this.
“First, the player had no problem doing a six-, seven- or eight-year deal. That’s very unusual these days, that players, at that stage of their career, will commit to a franchise. He was very sincere about that from day one, and stuck to it. A lot of guys will say it at the beginning and then back off, thinking there will be greater riches down the road. So once we had a player who was committed to that long of a structure, we could go ahead. If you look at it, the three years of restricted are based on what that arb [arbitration] number would probably look like, based on the way he has performed so far. Then, on the unrestricted years, you look at guys who signed last year, whether it be a Michalek or a Paul Martin, and the key is to try to gauge where your player is going to be. The longer you wait, the higher that AAV [salary-cap hit] is going to go. So if you look at his AAV, and look at the market for available defensemen, it’s very reasonable, assuming he continues to get better.
“That’s where you have to make a reasonable assumption that this player is going to continue to progress. If he does, you’re sitting there with a contract and you can fit in other guys. The only other way you can do it, as we’ve seen, is to put out those 20-year deals with bogus years. There are teams out there that have done it, which means they have a competitive advantage. The only way to beat that is to do it early, and keep that AAV down. That’s the second part. Number one is the commitment. Number two is the development. In Jack’s case, I don’t have any doubt that he’s not going to get complacent on us. That’s always your fear, when you step up for a young player, that he’s going to go, `Well, I’ve got it made,’ and stop trying to be the best he can. I have the utmost confidence, in terms of Jack, that this is not going to happen. If anything, it’s going to make him more confident, and drive harder. That’s the other thing that allows you to step up.
“It went back and forth for a month. It was very amicable. Every time we looked at something, we put it up on the board and looked at how it impacted Doughty and Simmonds and all our young players, and pieces we might want to add. All that research was done. When you have a guy who is willing to commit to seven years, it allows you — once you get that number locked in — it allows you some flexibility with the other guys. Sure, we would like to do Doughty on a similar term, but you don’t have to now. It’s good to have one in the bank. And don’t forget, Drew is three years younger than Jack, in terms of being removed from free agency. So he [Johnson] was a good target to focus on, in terms of the fact that he was willing to do it, and he’s the type of player who is going to do his best to be better.
“Getting that term in there allows us some flexibility with the other guys. You don’t have to get the long-term deal. Maybe it is smart to chip away at it, and then get them (long-term) when they’re Jack’s age. So I think it made sense for everyone. I think it’s a fair deal. Like I said, the key, whenever you’re doing this, is your belief that the player is not going to get complacent, and I don’t sense that in Jack at all.”
Question: What is the update on negotiations with Doughty?
LOMBARDI: “We’ve had very kick-the-tire discussions on Drew. Part of it was gauging where his play was. Again, Drew is two or three years younger than Jack, so there is a greater period there of growth. We can let it play out a little. We’re obviously going to sign him, and term is not an issue. Now that Jack is in, it gives us a little reference point. Like I said, we have some flexibility in terms of term, and we’ll start pecking away at that. But it’s hard to do three or four (players) at once, because you get confused as to what the mission is. Jack was committed for seven or eight years, and never wavered from that. It was, `OK, let’s get this done, put it in the bank and go do the other one [Doughty].’ So we’ve got one long-term deal in, and if we have to do the other one short-term, we’ve still got the free-agent rights and we can try again later. But it’s nice to have one in the bank.”
For Kings, Jack Johnson Contract A Team-Friendly Deal
By Rudy Kelly - Contributor
The Kings signed Jack Johnson and now turn their attention to the other major pieces of their core.
Jan 10, 2011 - The Kings signed defenseman Jack Johnson to a 7-year, $30.5 million deal on Saturday, continuing their quest to firm up their core for the future. The seven-year, $30.5 million contract will have a cap figure of $4.36 million, the average annual value. Here are a few facts about the deal:
- Johnson is now signed through the 2017-18 season; the next closest King is Anze Kopitar, who is signed through 2016-17.
- Johnson will be 31 at the conclusion of the deal
- Comparable cap hits are Dan Hamhius ($4.5 AAV), Tomas Kaberle ($4.25), and Jon Michael-Liles ($4.2); all are over the age of 28
- Johnson will earn $3.5 million for the first three years and $5 million a year the final four years
- Johnson acted as his own agent when negotiating the deal
For Johnson, the deal provides financial security while allowing him to remain in one place for a great period of time. Johnson has always been a big believer in loyalty; after all, he's a man that still goes back to Michigan University to get his bachelor's degree after leaving the school 2 years in to play pro hockey. Johnson could probably have gotten a little more money if he had signed a series of shorter deals, but those deals might not have been with Los Angeles. Johnson followed the example of Dustin Brown and exchanged more money for security. It's a very mature decision for a 23 year-old.
The Kings now have to turn their attention to their other 2 prime restricted free agents: star defenseman Drew Doughty and grinder Wayne Simmonds. Doughty is the other piece to the Kings' long-term defensive puzzle, a defenseman with elite offensive skills along with shutdown ability in the defensive end. Simmonds is already a great 3rd liner with a frame that projects him to be a very good power forward some day. Both are probably looking at shorter deals while the Kings get a better idea of their ceilings.
The Kings are now set up pretty well in the long-term. Their core is as follows:
- Jack Johnson, top pairing defender: signed through 2018
- Anze Kopitar, first line center: signed through 2017
- Dustin Brown, 1st line winger: signed through 2015
- Matt Greene, bottom pairing defender/ locker room leader: signed through 2015
- Jonathan Quick/Jonathan Bernier, goaltending tandem: signed through 2012
My Story: Jack Johnson
My Story... Begins at Age 5... In Birmingham, Michigan...
Tuesday, 01.11.2011 / 5:21 PM / Features
By Jack Johnson | Special to LAKings.com
I played my first hockey game on my fifth birthday after we had moved to Michigan from Indianapolis. My parents got me equipment and everything at Christmas and my dad signed me up for a house league team at the local city arena and I played my first game on my birthday.
At first, I remember kind of being fearless going out and onto the ice. My mom took me free skating a couple times before I even put on hockey gear. My mom always laughs about it and she said like all the kids would kind of hang out on the side of the boards and she said I just stepped out and skated across the other side of the rink. Skating was always, luckily, a natural thing for me. I have worked on it my whole life but I never started off hanging on the boards or pushing a chair or anything. I guess I was too young and dumb to realize that falling down hurts.
Initially I was a forward. I know I never wanted to play goalie as I never liked the idea of getting shot at as I wanted to score goals too much. But I played forward all the way up until Bantams. My first year of Peewee was when I started playing for a Triple A team. I was playing for the Little Caesars Hockey Club.
Hockey’s huge obviously in Metro-Detroit. We played great games against each other and we would always go up to tournaments in Toronto and play other travel teams. We knew we were in a good area for hockey when a lot of times we would be going up to Toronto and other big hockey hot beds, and it would be the two Detroit teams in the finals.
Travel hockey is when you don’t have one rink that you play at all the time. You have one rink that is considered home base, and you practice there and you play all your home games there. The team would schedule a game against another team in another city and your parents would have to drive you. Practices could be anywhere and the level of competition was much higher. It’s also a lot more expensive and a lot more time consuming.
I remember before school my mom would get me up and drive me 20 minutes to a local arena for skating lessons before school even started. She didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to take me skating. She could have easily said forget it, you’ll go at normal practice time.
Growing up I loved college hockey right from the stats. That’s what I wanted to do and my parents kind of set out to try and help make me good enough to earn a scholarship to go to a big time university. So that was the goal obviously. My parents were just hoping I would be able to get myself an education based on my hockey abilities.
My dad went to Wisconsin so my dad took me to Badger games. My mom went to Michigan so I went to Michigan games. I always thought about college hockey. If I could only play college hockey that would be unbelievable and obviously I kind of fell in love with the University of Michigan just being a local Michigan kid. Every kid in the Detroit-area wanted to play hockey at the University of Michigan. I always wanted to wear the winged helmet and try to get myself a scholarship to play at Michigan.
Before that happened, I played for Shattuck St. Mary’s prep school in Minnesota. I was there for three years, from eighth grade to 10th grade. They have a boarding option for you too but my parents and I agree now that I’m older, that sticking an 8th grader in the dorms two states away might not be the smartest idea. So my parents moved up to Minnesota. My dad had lived in Minnesota at one point when he was a kid, but they moved up there and rented a house pretty much right across the street from school to keep the family together because I have a brother who is 11 years younger.
When I did get to Michigan I was determined to simply enjoy every minute of college. I wanted to win four national championships when I first got to Michigan, that was the goal and those were the expectations. I think the reason I left school, I think hockey-wise, athletically it was the right decision but emotionally it was really hard to leave.
When I got drafted, it was by the Hurricanes. I was just out of the U.S. development program and I knew no matter what that I wanted to go to the University of Michigan. That was a dream of mine and something I really wanted to experience. And after my first year the opportunity had come up that they’d like me to leave school and everything and I just decided that I wasn’t ready as a hockey player or as a person to leave college yet.
I remember having dinner with Jimmy Rutherford, Carolina’s GM, in Detroit. I said, ‘Look, I’m not ready as a hockey player or as a person, and I need one more year after this year.’ Everyone seemed very cool with it and a couple weeks later I was sitting there in class and I got a text message from one of my former teammates, Jack Skilli, now with the Chicago Blackhawks, saying I just got traded to the Kings.
I stepped out of class and my phone was blowing up with all kinds of phone calls and that’s pretty much how I found out. I got on the phone with Ron Hextall when I got to the rink and that was pretty much it. Since I was a college kid, I didn’t have to pack up and move or move a family or anything like that. It was just like, ‘Well, OK, this sounds good.’
From my last college game until my first NHL game, it was short and it was a whirlwind. I think that played to my advantage and it was a fun experience for me. The fact that I didn’t have a lot of time, it didn’t give me a lot of time to think about it. I think in a lot of ways it was a blessing. It was just go out and do it and get your first game out of the way. You’ll never have another first game and everything will take off from there.
Drew Doughty says Jack Johnson's contract numbers aren't a blueprint for him
January 10, 2011 | 12:36 pm
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said Monday that teammate Jack Johnson’s signing of a seven-year, $30.5-million contract extension with the club won’t have an impact on his own contract negotiations with the Kings.
Doughty is in the final year of his entry-level contract and is eligible to become a restricted free agent after the season. He’s represented by high-power agent Don Meehan of Toronto-based Newport Sports.
Meehan and several associates have been in Southern California the last few days catching up with clients -- they represent five members of the Kings -- and were scheduled to attend the Kings’ game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night at Staples Center.
“I don’t really think it has any bearing on the amount I’m going to sign for or the amount of years I’m going to sign for,” Doughty said after the team’s game-day skate in El Segundo.
“To be honest with you, I have no idea how long it’s going to be. We haven’t talked at all.
“I’m just here to play and not worry about that stuff. That is why my agent’s out here, to talk and deal with that stuff. I want to know what’s going on and what’s being said, but I’m going to stay out of the negotiating process.”
Doughty, 21, is nearly three years younger than Johnson. However, he was a finalist for the Norris Trophy last season and is considered to have greater upside than Johnson.
Asked if he could imagine committing to a seven-year deal, which is among the longest the Kings have ever given any player, Doughty was, well, noncommittal.
“That is a long time,” he said. “It’s great for the Kings organization to have Jack around for that many years, unless he gets traded. He’s a great player and a huge part of this defense corps and this organization, so it was really good for them to get him.”
The news of Johnson’s signing last Saturday was applauded by his teammates -- including Anze Kopitar, who said the new deal meant that Johnson would have to buy him dinner. Johnson said Monday he plans to pick up the tab for everyone in Dallas, the first stop on the Kings’ next trip.
“It’s the first opportunity I have to buy them dinner and I figured I’d do it on the road when guys don’t have families and stuff around,” Johnson said. “Sometimes at home they have plans and you don’t want to interfere with their plans, so I figured on the road would be a good time to do it.”
He already has a steakhouse picked out and is prepared for teammates to eat hearty and not opt for the petite cut on the filet mignon.
“I would hope they wouldn’t, because I don’t think I would,” he said.
There wasn't much news out of the morning skate. Coach Terry Murray said the lineup will remain the same as it was against Columbus, which means no Brad Richardson, Peter Harrold or Davis Drewiske. Murray said he planned to chat with Richardson and go over some video of the forward's recent games to explain why he's no longer in the lineup.
Also, the Kings said the NHL had made a change on the scoring of their second goal against Columbus on Saturday. The goal, previously awarded to Alec Martinez with assists to Johnson and Marco Sturm, was tipped by Sturm and given to him. The scoring sequence now reads Sturm, with his third goal of the season, from Martinez and Johnson.
-- Helene Elliott
Kings: Jack Johnson will stick to his roots
By Dan Arritt
Now that Kings defenseman Jack Johnson will be around a while, signing a seven-year $30.5 million contract extension last weekend, time to start looking for that mansion on the beach that’ll be perfect for the summers, right?
Maybe if it’s on the banks of Lake Michigan.
Johnson, who turns 24 on Thursday, said his new riches won’t change his offseason ritual of returning to Ann Arbor and splitting time between his parents' home and a bachelor pad with his former defense partner at Michigan, Matt Hunwick of the Colorado Avalanche.
"The reason I like going home in the summer is I like the change of pace," Johnson said. "It’s not that I don’t like being in L.A. during the summer, it’s just that when I’m in L.A. I associate it with work and hockey."
Johnson, who left Michigan after his sophomore season and signed with the Kings, has also been keeping his promise to Wolverines coach Red Berenson, taking a few classes at Michigan each summer to complete his degree.
"I have a great thing for training and skating in the summer in Michigan, seeing my friends and family that I don’t see," he said. "It’s just a good chance to recharge the batteries and be real excited to back in the fall."
Johnson, who will get a raise from $1.425 million this season to $3.5 million each of the next three to $5 million the final four of the contract, does have some plans for his additional income.
"Being a Motor City kid, I’m kind of into cars," he said.
Johnson has his eyes on a Ferrari, but also fancies BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes, even listing the 1967 Ford Shelby Mustang among his favorite automobiles.
"Other than that, I’m a pretty simple guy, jeans, T-shirt, tennis shoes," he said. "I don’t need a huge house and a swimming pool."
Check out the home page of lakings.com to view a newly released video that provides additional details on Johnson’s ties with the Great Lakes State.
The doctor is in: Blake taking Johnson under his wing in L.A.
By George Johnson
Special to ESPN.com
When the Los Angeles Kings look at the 6-foot-1, 201-pound package that is Jack Johnson, they see their future … and their past.
They see a big, mobile defenseman capable of contributing points and launching unwary attackers into the 12th row of premium seating behind the glass. They see a rawboned kid to build a franchise around.
They see a young Rob Blake.
"Maybe, in a sense," corrects Blake politely, "but this guy has way more puck skills than I've ever had. His deception coming up ice. His tight turns. His decision-making. He sees the ice so well. He can bring the puck out all by himself.
"Plus, he has the ability to dish out these huge, open-ice checks like [Dion] Phaneuf. Given the size and speed of players today, when you catch someone now, it's a highlight-reel hit. Jack's going to be on a lot of highlight reels."
The comparison draws an argument from Johnson, too. For entirely different reasons, naturally.
"A young Rob Blake?" he grunts. "I wish. He's won everything -- an Olympic gold medal, a Stanley Cup, a Norris Trophy. I'd take that career in a minute. He's a sure-shot Hall of Famer. I'm just a rookie defenseman trying to learn the league and get better every day."
Blake remembers his first season in the NHL. As a King, he found himself a seat beside a future Hall of Famer named Larry Robinson and studied how the Big Bird handled himself and went about his job. It was comparable to apprenticing under Giotto or articling under Darrow.
"He was the blueprint on how to be a professional," Blake says. "As a young player, I could not have received a better education."
The education of Jack Johnson, the all-American defenseman, is full of daily lessons. Professor Blake is in charge of this tutorial. Class is always in session. When they spot Johnson and Blake together (which is often), the L.A. players tease Blake, calling him "Dad."
The description isn't that far of a stretch.
"We all need mentors," Kings associate coach Mike Johnston reminds us. "They help mold us, establish our parameters for success. Jack could not have a better mentor than Rob."
Johnson sits next to Blake in the dressing room. Johnson is boarding with the Blake family this winter -- Rob and his wife, Brandy, and their children, Jack and Brooke. He plays mini-stick hockey with the kids and appreciates the relaxed atmosphere of staying at a home rather than a hotel. He also appreciates the opportunity to pick his teacher's brain.
"He's a sponge," Blake says. "Rather than flop on the couch at night and play the latest video game, he's picking out hockey games on the satellite dish. He just loves to watch hockey. We'll watch a game and he's always asking questions. 'Is [Jarome] Iginla that powerful?' Or 'How would you handle [Sidney] Crosby in that sort of a situation? What's this guy like? Does that guy have favorite tendencies?'
"He just wants to soak it all up."
All of which makes young Johnson an ideal tenant, no?
And how is Blake as a landlord?
"Great," Johnson replies with a smile. "He hasn't asked for any rent yet."
There are other similarities between the old pro and the young phenom besides build, ability and appetite. Blake came out of the U.S. college system -- Bowling Green, specifically -- and played four games at the end of the 1989-90 season to become acclimated to the league. Johnson, from Michigan, got in five at the end of the 2006-07 campaign.
"Those five games made such a difference," Johnson says. "Without them, I would've spent all summer wondering what it'd be like, whether or not I could cut it. The transition was pretty smooth. I came in this year knowing that if I worked hard and paid attention, I could play in the NHL."
Playing in the NHL is one thing. Playing in the NHL in California is quite another, which is one more example of Blake's value to the kid's development; he understands the peculiar challenges of the place better than anyone.
"It's a different environment," Blake says. "When you step outside the rink, the hockey atmosphere is … gone. That's not the case in Calgary or Montreal or, to a lesser degree, when I was in Denver. In traditional hockey markets, it's all people talk about. You're accountable everywhere you go.
"I learned from Larry and Wayne Gretzky and those guys that, somewhere like L.A., you develop that atmosphere, that environment inside the dressing room and you work hard to maintain it."
Defenseman is a notoriously difficult position to master, particularly at this level. It's generally accepted that defensemen take longer to mature and prosper. Since 1932-33, when the NHL began issuing a Rookie of the Year award (later christened the Calder Trophy), only nine defensemen have won the prestigious bauble. They are, for the most part, a legendary lot: Bobby Orr, Denis Potvin, Ray Bourque, Brian Leetch.
Johnson is one of the leading candidates for 2008. Indianapolis -- known as the hometown of David Letterman, Dan Quayle, Joyce ("Come and knock on my doooooor …") DeWitt, Oscar Robertson, Jim Davis (creator of Garfield) and Brendan Fraser -- might soon be known as the hometown of Jack Johnson, too.
He could wind up being the worst deal the Carolina Hurricanes ever made -- shipping Johnson (their third-overall pick) and Oleg Tverdovsky to L.A. on Sept. 29, 2006, for Tim Gleason and Eric Belanger.
"What we've been very impressed with is his patience, in the five games we saw him last year and so far this season," Johnston says. "He had a reputation in college and in international hockey for going for the big hits. But he hasn't tried to ramrod his way into this league. He's come in respecting the game and the players.
"I believe it's harder now for defensemen coming in because of the new rules. You can't put a stick on a guy. You can't battle people in front of the net. You can't hold them up along the boards. So positioning, more than ever before, is vital. That's difficult for a young player to develop.
"Everybody knew he was good, but he's a willing learner and a quick student, too."
A young Rob Blake?
Johnson is right. He, and the Kings, can only wish.
But there simply could not be any better preparation for writing your master's thesis on NHL defense than learning the ropes from one of the best of an era.
And Professor Blake predicts nothing but great things from his prize pupil.
"He's the best I've seen in a long time. And he's only 20. To be that good at 20 is scary good."