Dusseldorf, Germany is a long way from the NHL, figuratively and literally.
Yet, after playing 10 seasons in the NHL, the majority of which spent with the Los Angeles Kings, Dusseldorf is exactly where Craig Johnson found himself in 2005. He went to Germany a year previously to play for the Hamburg Freezers during the NHL work stoppage. He expected it to be a one-off adventure, but an abdominal injury and complications from the surgery to correct it left Johnson out of hockey for close to a year and without a NHL contract offer.
By the time he was healthy, NHL teams had settled their rosters, so Johnson stayed in Dusseldorf for a two-year run with the DEG MetroStars of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Germany's top professional circuit.
After 30 goals and 51 points in 75 games, Johnson was again at a crossroads and opted to return to Southern California, where he had set up roots after playing parts of eight seasons with the Kings and a portion of the 2003-04 season with the Anaheim Ducks. While considering his next move, Johnson took some time to coach his son, Eric, who was playing with the Anaheim Junior Ducks, a youth program established in 1994, not long after the NHL came to Orange County.
There was no way for Johnson to know it at the time, but the decision paved the road for a high school hockey program in California to make history a few years later.
As the varsity hockey coach at Santa Margarita Catholic High School, Johnson has spearheaded a program that, like the interscholastic league in which it competes, has seen an unlikely and meteoric rise, one which has gained praise across the hockey world.