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Developing a winning culture with the Jackets

DAN KAMAL | Published: Saturday, February 02, 2013

Forget the chicken and egg question; I can still remember how much my head hurt trying to figure out that puzzler.

That doesn’t mean I’m not still interested in the whole concept of which comes first, particularly as it applies to something the Columbus Blue Jackets are trying to establish here in Ohio’s capital: that elusive winning culture.

We’ve heard the phrase mentioned many times around the Blue Jackets locker room this early season. Everyone seems focused on planting the seeds of that culture and helping make it grow. But when a colleague asked me what comes first, a winning culture or winning, I have to admit I hesitated. After some head scratching and mindless muttering, I thought I’d ask a guy who figures to be instrumental in moving this franchise to the level it’s hoping to reach.

So, Jack Johnson, what DOES come first, the winning or the winning culture?

“I’d say winning, because you can’t have a winning culture without winning,” he explained. “You need to start winning, and it grows. It doesn’t come overnight; it takes time, unfortunately. The good teams who have that culture, it’s grown over a long period of time. So you have to start winning to make it an everyday thing.”

Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards has addressed the on-ice habits he believes are integral to the building of a winning culture, things like never being outworked, winning one-on-one battles, blocking shots, finishing checks, and tightening up play in the defensive zone.

But what about inside the locker room? What type of mindset and atmosphere in the players’ “home away from home” is most conducive to accelerating the consistent winning that leads to the much-sought winning culture? For Johnson, it basically comes down to coming to work with a smile on your face.

“I want to see a situation where every guy wakes up in the morning and wants to come to the rink,” said the 2005 first-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes. “You don’t view it as work; you view it as something you love to do, and it’s fun.

“And play passionately,” he added. “You’re supposed to play with passion and love what you do. When you love what you’re doing, you work hard, and everything takes care of itself. Every guy in the room has to have that attitude and feel that way and love playing for Columbus.”

After the Blue Jackets’ recent two-game road swing to Phoenix and Denver, a pair of losses in which Columbus was outscored 9-1, Johnson talked about the need for his team to play more confidently and with a little more swagger. He cited the level of talent in the Columbus locker room and called for his teammates to believe in themselves collectively. And he wants the guys wearing Blue Jackets sweaters to be less careful.

“We need to play to win; don’t be cautious about anything,” he said. “There’s not enough time to sit back and wait. We need to go after it, especially against teams that are probably going to take us lightly and not expect a lot from us.

“There’s too much parity in the league to take any team lightly,” Johnson continued. “The difference between the top teams and the teams on the bottom is not very much. If we play well every night we’ve got a great chance to win. We just need to generate more offense and get more scoring opportunities. Scoring one or two goals probably isn’t going to do it in this league; you need to score at least three to give yourself a chance.”

A chance to win, that is. Call it the chicken, or the egg, but we now know from a very credible source that winning begets a winning culture in the game of hockey. Makes sense. Now it’s up to the Blue Jackets to make it happen.

Jack Johnson, the “horse” in Columbus

Posted by JonRosen on 5 February 2013, 10:20 am

Jack Johnson recorded 34:59 of ice time in Columbus’ 4-2 win over Detroit on Saturday night. This I learned, thanks to a tweet by Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch, was the most minutes logged in a regular season NHL game since Dan Boyle of Tampa Bay took the ice for 37:03 in a game against Boston on February 23, 2008.

With injuries to several key Blue Jackets defensemen, Johnson is likely to again see upwards of 30 minutes of playing time tonight against the Kings. He was a popular figure in the Columbus’ locker room this morning, and took some time to speak with LA Kings Insider about his experience in Ohio’s capital.

Jack Johnson, on how the Buckeye fans have treated a Michigan man:
“Oh, they’ve been awesome, actually. I was expecting my fair share of kidding, and I’ve gotten that, but honestly they couldn’t have been nicer. I went to the Michigan – Ohio State game, and everyone’s welcomed me with open arms. It’s pretty overwhelming, actually.”

Johnson, on whether he flies a Michigan flag at home in Columbus:
“I’ve got Michigan license plates. I’ll hang my Michigan flag on Football Saturdays. I actually grew up a big Andy Katzenmoyer fan, who was a middle linebacker for Ohio State. I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Ohio State. Everyone’s treated me better than I could’ve asked for.”

Johnson, on playing against the Kings and scoring a goal in a win over L.A. last March:
“At the time, it was a huge win for us, just because we were trying to end the season on the right note. We approached that game like every other game. I had been here long enough that who we were playing wasn’t an issue. It’s always nice to score a goal, obviously.”

Johnson, on providing an example for a young D-corps with his ice time:
“I hope so. You’d have to ask them. I mean, I have fun playing. I want to play. Nobody wants to sit on the bench. The extra minutes and everything – I love being out there. Unfortunately, those guys are out. It would be a lot easier to play these games with these guys than without ‘em. But those cards were dealt, and we’ve got to make due.”

Johnson, on what Columbus is looking to accomplish at this point in the shortened season:
“We don’t get a lot of time to practice, so we’re learning on the job, so to speak. We got a chance to practice yesterday and work on our defensive zone coverage and just clean up a few things. Situations came up where there was some uncertainty, and you try to clean it up as much as you can. Other than that, you’ve got to just play hockey and make the right reads and at the end of the day, you’ve got to make more plays than the other team.”

Johnson, on what came together in the win over Detroit on Saturday:
“Well, I think that we were winning our one-on-one battles, a lot of times that makes a huge difference in the game. If you have the puck more than they do, you’re probably going to win the hockey game. I think that our team just really wanted it, and I think it was more of a mindset than anything, that we went out with the mindset that we weren’t going to lose at home again. I think that was the difference.”

Johnson, on whether he keeps in contact with his former teammates:
“I haven’t talked to any of the guys since the season started. I talked to a couple of guys during the summer and during the lockout, congratulated a few of ‘em. I talked to a couple guys during the lockout, but that’s about it.”

Blue Jackets Associate Coach Craig Hartsburg, a former All-Star defenseman, on Johnson:
“He’s a horse. Physically, he’s a great skater, but he’s conditioned and strong. But he’s been good. We certainly ask a lot of him right now with four defensemen out of the lineup. He’ll get a ton of ice time again here tonight, and he’s extremely hard worker and competitive player, so obviously he’s a big part of our team.”

Who could be the Blue Jackets' next captain?

Kevin Allen, USA TODAY Sports12:31 a.m. EST February 1, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Coach Todd Richards likely won't forget that when Jack Johnson was traded last season from the Los Angeles Kings to the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets, he walked into his new dressing room like he had just won the lottery.

Johnson expedited his travel plans to ensure he could play in his first game that night and was disappointed he couldn't because Jeff Carter, the other player in the deal, hadn't taken his physical.

"He was a breath of fresh air. ... The next day, we were on a plane to Pittsburgh, and he could play that game, and then we saw how he played that game," Richards recalled. "Talk about winning your teammates over."

Richards isn't close to deciding who will replace Rick Nash as captain, but Johnson, an alternate captain, is among the front-runners.

"He loves the game. He's passionate about the game. He wants to be at the rink," Richards said. "He wants to get better. He wants to win hockey games. He wants to be a champion. He wants all of those things, and he's driven by it."

Richards recalls a day late last season when he had given the team the day off. It was very quiet in his office and he headed off to the weight room, where he found Johnson doing squats.

"He had just played 30 minutes (the night before)," Richards said. "And this wasn't light weight, either. This was heavy, heavy weight."

Blue Jackets President John Davidson has also been impressed by Johnson's attitude and work ethic. "He is so strong he should be a linebacker in football," Davidson said. "He's 230 pounds, and it's large weight."

However, Johnson isn't a sure bet to be named captain. Other candidates:

-R.J. Umberger: This is his fifth season in Columbus, and he's Mr. Consistency. He is durable and has averaged 23.5 goals a season in his career with the Blue Jackets. He has an outgoing personality, friendly with the news media. He also played for Ohio State, which adds to his popularity.

-Derek Dorsett: Plays with heart and intensity, piling up more than 200 penalty minutes last season. He's an alternate captain. He scored 12 goals last season. The only question is how much his role will expand.

-James Wisniewski: The Blue Jackets' big free agent signee two summers ago, and he's known as one of the league's ultra-competitors.

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