Thursday, April 5, 2012

Johnson is Red, White and Blue ... and a WInner

By Larry Wigge

To say that John Joseph Louis "Jack" Johnson is a rather complex or complicated individual is true. 

If you were trade to be traded from a potential playoff team to the worst team in the league -- from Los Angeles to Columbus? How would you explain it? The 24-year-old young man used rather clever reasoning to justify his response ... 

"Everyone thought I was going from paradise to someplace nobody wants to be ... but I don't care if I'm playing on the moon as long as I'm happy coming to the rink," said Johnson. "When I came in this room I was surprised at how upbeat the atmosphere was and I've been very happy here so far. I'm excited to go to a team that wants me. 

"You've got to be happy when you come in the in the morning. Life is no fun if you're not happy but it's been great. It's not doom and gloom, that's for sure."

You've got to start somewhere, Johnson argues. Why not Columbus?

"Let's just say it wasn't a good fit," Johnson said of Los Angeles, implying the defensive style of the team just didn't get the most out of what he feels he can bring to a team and what he feels he's always brought to any team he's ever played on. "It happens in sports -- and this was one case where I think it did. I just don't think they were using me to the fullest -- and not because Drew Doughty was there.

"I want to be part of the solution here. I know they've had some bad breaks and some tough seasons, but it's going to be great when it turns around. Really, I don't think there's anything sweeter in sports than being part of a team when they get it turned around.

"In some places, it's a job. You punch in and punch out. Here, it's not. It's a perfect fit."
You can punch the complex attitude also when you think about being traded twice already, after being the third overall pick behind Sidney Crosby and Bobby Ryan in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. First, he was dealt from Carolina with Oleg Tverdovsky for Eric Belanger and Tim Gleason ... before the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. ("They don't understand why a kid would turn down the NHL," his father said. "They think everybody would cut off their right arm to play in the NHL. Yeah, Jack wants to, but he had this dream first.") Next, came the trade to the Blue Jackets for Jeff Carter and a first-round draft pick.

Johnson's already averaging nearly a point-per-game with Columbus -- has has three goals and eight assists in 19 games. He's had a career-high 11 goals this season.

"He's a potential No. 1 defenseman, in my mind," Columbus GM Scott Howson said. "He's a 22- or 23-minute guy. He's a great skater. He doesn't tire when he skates.

"It's a great piece for us. I'm excited about our defense. It's mobile, it's big and it's got some skill."

Todd Richards, the Blue Jackets coach, remembers Johnson for something he did in 2010 World Championships.

"It was the Olympics year, so a lot of the players had played in the Olympics. But he was the only American (NHL) player that went over and played in the World Championships that year," Richards said. "That said a lot about him as a player, as a person. You watch the way he played, too.

"We were in the relegation round, so really the games didn’t mean anything. We were playing games at 11 a.m. vs. France. He played for his country. I see him as a real solid two-way defenseman. The other thing he has -- and he's worn a letter in the past -- is leadership."

He's got loyalty to the American uniform. 

"Since I haven't won a Stanley Cup, my greatest accomplishment has been playing on the U.S. Olympics team that won the silver medal in 2010 at Vancouver," said Johnson, who was born in Indianapolis, Ind. and raised in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Here's another complex deal for the 6-1, 219-pound defenseman.

"My first love was football," he said, listing his father Jack Sr. as being a football and hockey player at the University of Wisconsin and played for the 1973 NCAA championship team, Ken Manuel, his grandfather, was football, baseball and basketball player at the University of Michigan and his other grandfather played football at Notre Dame University. "But I figured I was going to be too small and slow to play football."

Johnson was a linebacker in his early days. Six-one and 219 pounds -- too small and to slow? OK, maybe so.

Players often have to overcome an obstacle to get to where they are. Johnson said his parents gave up there jobs for him. Jack Sr. worked for Ford Racing when I was growing up, so I used to go to a lot of car races. Go to the Indianapolis 500 and lot of NASCAR races. Christina, his mom, was a real estate agent. She went the University of Michigan. She was a swimmer in high school.

"The first time we put Jack on the ice was when he was 4. He stood up and just started skating," said Tina Johnson, his mother. "He didn't fall, he didn't wobble. He just skated to the other end of the rink."

On his fifth birthday Johnson was signed up to play on his first team -- Honey Baked Ham in Birmingham, Mich.

It wasn't too much longer when Jack Johnson and his brother Ken out on the driveway.

"My favorite players growing up were Chris Chelios and Brian Leetch," he said. "Out in the driveway, you would want to be the next great American defenseman."

The 15-year-old Johnson then was offered a scholarship at the University of Michigan by coach Red Berenson.

"My goal was always to be able to get myself into a college," said Johnson. "I knew I would not be a 4.0 student, so I had to get an edge athletically."

Said Berenson, "There aren't many kids you'd make that kind of commitment to. Johnson is the "complete package."

Johnson spent the summer of 2007 working out in the weight room with Olympic gold-medal swimmer Michael Phelps. Sidney Crosby. Phelps. Building quite a model of friends.

Which kind of defenseman is Johnson -- offense or defensive? He says both ...

"It's kind of like a switch. I can turn it on and off," Johnson proclaimed. "If we don't have the puck, I try to play solid defense. Hockey's a game of intimidation, so I like to throw my weight around. The second we get the puck, I like to turn it into forward mode and create offense. That's the object of hockey, to score goals."

Jack Johnson will always be proud of his Maize and blue days at Michigan -- he promised coach Berenson he would come back and get his degree in the summer.

"We're sitting at the family table and I won't be the only one without a degree," Johnson said. "I take a couple of classes every summer. I'm not in any hurray ... but I do want to beat my brother to getting a degree."

That competitive angle with his brother Ken ... is always there to Jock Johnson.

Complex. Complicated. And smart.

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