By Aaron Portzline
The Columbus Dispatch • TUESDAY APRIL 15, 2014 6:04 AM
Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson scrolled through his text messages on Saturday after a game at the Florida Panthers, a win that locked the team into a first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The first text was from Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby.
“It was, ‘Hey, we’re going to see a lot of each other. Good luck!’ ” Johnson said. “I texted back pretty much the same.”
For Johnson and Crosby — two friends who met 12 years ago as 10th-graders at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, a private school in Minnesota — playing against each other in pursuit of the Stanley Cup has seemed almost inevitable since they were drafted No. 1 (Crosby to Pittsburgh) and No. 3 (Johnson to Carolina) in the 2005 NHL draft.
“We knew it was going to happen eventually,” Johnson said. “We’ve competed in so many things. We’d work out in the summer, and it was always who could lift more or run faster. Everything was a competition for us, in a good way. So I guess it only makes sense that we’re in the Stanley Cup playoffs together. This is going to be fun, and I hope it’s the first of many.”
Johnson was in his third year at Shattuck-St. Mary’s when Crosby arrived from Nova Scotia in 2002. By then, he was already a well-known name — the next Gretzky — in hockey circles.
“We were idiot 15-year-olds, the only two 10th-graders on a team that was predominantly seniors,” Johnson said. “We had all of our classes together, too, so we just hit it off right away. We were inseparable. We know each other’s families really well, because in the summer, I’d go up and stay with him and hang out, work out and skate together.”
They did everything together — eat, study, train, play baseball and fight.
In baseball, Johnson played third base and Crosby catcher and pitcher. One opponent on a traveling team from Mankato, Minn., learned a tough lesson about hockey players, even those playing baseball.
“This pitcher was chirping us from the mound. He was kind of a big mouth,” Johnson said. “And he’d thrown high and tight at both of us. I told Sid in the dugout that next time I was up, I was going to get hit by a pitch so I could go to the mound. I’d just had enough.”
Sure enough …
“He turned and ran, but I caught him before he made it to second base. I got him good a couple times. The shortstop threw his mitt at me. The first baseman came in, and I got him one right in the mouth. Broke my hand, actually.”
Crosby, in an interview with NBC, said: “I was just off to the side holding their catcher. I think Jack was throwing most of the punches. He was bringing a hockey mentality to it, I guess.”
Johnson was kicked off the baseball team — “so ended my baseball career,” he said — but he and Crosby still joke about it, mostly how the story has reached urban-legend proportions at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, located about 45 miles south of Minneapolis.
Johnson doesn’t do much fighting in the NHL, but he has become a physical force for the Blue Jackets. He was 13th in the NHL this season with 24:40 of average ice time. That ice time will almost certainly go up in this series, as Johnson will be a workhorse against the highly skilled Penguins — not just Crosby, but Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang and others.
Johnson said he’s expecting a physical series, even when he’s in the corner with his longtime friend. The two have faced each other in the Olympics and the world championships — but never for the Stanley Cup.
“He’s as good a person as he is a hockey player, if you can believe that,” Johnson said. “But he knows as well as I do that I’m trying to win the Cup as much as he is. It’s well understood between the two of us that we’re going to go as hard as we can. It’s the Stanley Cup. We’ll be friends again afterward.”
Aww, Crosby still loves him. Also, "idiot 15-year-olds" hahaha. I've heard the baseball fight story a few times now, but not the part about JMFJ breaking his hand in the process. Also, I don't know if I wrote this anywhere, but Crosby was the kid who said that he was most afraid of JMFJ. :P
Man, JMFJ was cute as a baby.