Jack Johnson provided a beacon of hope at the tail end of a disappointing season for the Blue Jackets. After being acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings prior to the trade deadline, Johnson displayed an attitude and demeanor upon joining the club which made him an instant fan favorite in Columbus.
And he’s not ready to stop playing. A veteran of the USA Hockey system and a product of the American college hockey system, Johnson will represent the United States at the 2012 IIHF World Hockey Championships beginning early May. The tournament is hosted by Sweden and Finland this year, and it will mark Johnson’s fifth appearance for Team USA at Worlds.
The excitement surrounding the end of the Blue Jackets season – including a two-week stretch of solid hockey to close out the regular season – only helped Johnson’s decision to play in the World Championships, he said. There is sure to be added motivation for the steady skilled defender: Johnson has yet to be part of a medaling U.S. team at the World Championships in his professional career.
“For me, it was a no brainer,” Johnson told BlueJackets.com. “I’m in a unique situation where I’m young, single, and don’t have a wife and kids to take care of. Fortunately I’m healthy and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t go over.
“Some other guys aren’t able to go due to other obligations and injuries they’re going through. I’m excited and looking forward to it. This is my fifth one and I’ve yet to medal in this tournament. That’s something I really want to do.”
International competition is a big deal for Johnson, who is remembered for taking time out of his NHL schedule in 2010 to attend the Olympic Winter Games opening ceremonies in Vancouver – becoming the first U.S.-born NHL player to take part in the ceremony. Johnson was also the captain of the 2010 U.S. World Championships squad, registering three assists in six games and logging plenty of ice time.
In his extensive career representing the red, white, and blue, Johnson has been a part of a gold-medal winner (2005 IIHF under-18 tournament), silver medalist (2010 Olympic Winter Games) and bronze medal club (2007 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships). He’s met a lot of his close friends along the way, which is an added benefit to being part of a team playing for its respective country.
“I haven’t even looked at the roster yet, but I’m sure there will be guys I’ve known from years past and I’ll be looking forward to going over there and seeing them,” Johnson said. “Another cool part of an event like this is catching up and getting to know the team.
“In that kind of tournament, it’s fun to meet guys you played against during the season and keep growing as part of the USA hockey family. I’m really looking forward to it and can’t wait to get there.”
Johnson will not be the only Blue Jacket making the trip overseas for the World Championships, as rookie forward Cam Atkinson also got the call from USA Hockey last week. This is his second international competition, having played in the Ivan Hlinka tournament (under-18) in the Czech Republic.
Like his Columbus counterpart, Atkinson was one of the bright spots of the Blue Jackets season as he made the team out of training camp and later recalled as the leading goal-scorer in the American Hockey League. He notched his first career hat trick on April 5 against the Colorado Avalanche and added two more goals in the season finale vs. the New York Islanders.
At 22 years of age, playing for the United States is definitely a highlight of a young professional career, Atkinson said.
“Obviously it was such an honor to get that call, and there were no issues when I was asked,” Atkinson told BlueJackets.com. “Any time you can throw the jersey on to represent your country and have a chance to win a gold medal, it’s something really special.
“It’s not only great for me and my family, but it’s great for the Columbus Blue Jackets organization.”
Jim Johansson, president of USA Hockey and the man who called Atkinson about his selection, did have on specific request for the Connecticut native.
“He said to make sure you bring that stick you scored all those goals with for the Blue Jackets,” Atkinson said.
“It’s a dream come true, you know? I’m excited to play with some of the best talent in the world, and experience a new culture I’ve not had the chance to see. You get to find out about your teammates, where they came from, and what their story is -- that’s what it’s all about. It’s a special bond with your team in a tournament like that and I just can’t wait to go over there and get started.”