Playing in the Western Hockey League can be a grueling existence for teenagers. So when Ryan Johansen had an off day recently, he took full advantage by sleeping in. The 18-year-old Portland Winterhawks center, drafted fourth overall by the Blue Jackets last June, was still in bed when news of those invited to Canada's selection camp for the World Junior Championships was announced.
"I looked at my phone and I had two or three missed calls," Johansen says while on the road with the Winterhawks. "My Dad (Randall) had texted me. I looked at it and it said, 'Congrats, bud.'"
Johansen has great memories watching the WJC while growing up in British Columbia. The Vancouver native, whose family moved to nearby Port Moody when he was a kid, would gather with buddies to watch Team Canada in their annual quest for gold. It's a time of year he's always looked forward to.
So Johansen considers the invite alone to be an honor and that the feeling of putting on his country's jersey would be too difficult to put into words. It's an opportunity he won’t let pass by.
"My mindset is to make that team, to be the top player on that team and make a big impact for the team," he says. "I'm doing everything I can to prepare and make sure I'm at that top level."
Johansen has earned his shot. In his second year with Portland, the 6'3", 196-pound forward has been a beast, racking up 16 goals and 19 assists in 29 games with the 22-7-0-3 Winterhawks, first in the WHL's U.S. Division.
"Ryan has continued to develop into one of the elite players in the WHL," says Portland GM and head coach Mike Johnston. "He has established himself as a strong two-way center, who has great vision offensively and defensively. I expect the experience of competing for a job on the Canadian World Junior team will benefit him in much the same way the training camp in Columbus did."
Johansen was considered a borderline top-10 prospect when last summer's NHL Entry Draft came around. The Jackets, in search of big, creative center, decided he was their man, and took him in the fourth spot. Johansen made his first appearance at Columbus training camp this fall and even lined up alongside Jackets captain Rick Nash in exhibition action, an experience he says "would be nice" down the road when he's ready for the NHL.
Between the draft, CBJ camp and now the invite to Team Canada's selection camp, the B.C. teenager, who as selected 150th overall by Portland in the 2007 Bantam Draft but initially opted to play with the British Columbia Hockey League's Penticton Vees, has had a fairly quick ascent in the hockey world.
"Over the past year, there have just been so many surreal things that have happened to my hockey career that it's been kind of a roller coaster for me," Johansen says. "Every time these opportunities come, you're just thankful for all the things your parents, your family, your friends and teammates have done for you.
"For me, that's who I play for. You just want to give back to all those people who have put in the effort for you to have success."
The Team Canada camp, scheduled from Dec. 12-15 in Toronto, will be unforgettable for Johansen. It's already been an historic year in Canadian hockey with an Olympic gold medal in the bank thanks to a dramatic OT winner from superstar Sidney Crosby and Johansen would like nothing more than to be a part of a team that lands more hardware for the hockey-mad nation.
He recalls being in Portland during the Winter Olympics, watching the decisive game in mixed company.
"My billets are all American," says Johansen. “I had Troy (Portland teammate and Edmonton, Alberta native Troy Rutkowski) over at my house to watch.
"When Crosby scored, we went crazy."
Johansen's hosts weren't as amused. But it was a special day for Johansen as a fan. Now comes his chance to be one of those difference makers on a huge international stage, the opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream.
"You picture yourself being on the ice and getting that big overtime goal," Johansen says, "being Canada's hero."