It is difficult to think of a 26-year-old hockey player as a veteran. But at this year's Olympic orientation camp for Team USA, that is what Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson is considered to be.
The average age of the 48 players who arrived at Kettler Capitals Ice Plex in Arlington, Va. is 24.6 years old, making Johnson one of the "old guys" on the team. Though the potential American team appears young on paper, Johnson knows that the talent on the roster cannot be taken lightly.
“A lot of the young guys at camp here are smart guys who already have a lot of experience with World Juniors or U-18 so they have all that skill and don’t need a lot of help," Johnson told BlueJackets.com.
Johnson himself has a lot of experience representing the United States, and is one of USA Hockey's most decorated ambassaors. He brought home the silver medal from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and has made several appearances at World Championships and at World Junior tournaments over the past decade.
He plans to use that experience to his advantage as he vies for a spot on the 25-man roster that head coach Dan Bylsma will take to Sochi, Russia.
“This is going to be a harder team to make than the last Olympic team because of the young talent that’s coming up," said Johnson. "The team has gotten younger over the last four years, the depth is getting better and there are so many good guys to choose from. It's a great problem for the coaches to have, but it makes it tougher for players to earn a spot."
Johnson plans to earn his spot by letting his play for the Blue Jackets speak for itself. USA Hockey's management group for the Sochi Olympics, led by Nashville Predators GM David Poile, has made it clear that the first few months of the 2013-14 NHL season will serve as a "tryout period" before the American roster is finalized.
“I’m just going to do my best and try to win games in Columbus," said Johnson. "You have to take care of things with your NHL team and do whatever you have to do to win there if you want a spot. If guys can do that, then everything else should take care of itself.”
The first few months of the NHL season are especially important due to the difference in this year's orientation camp. This year's sessions only consist of off-ice training because the price to insure players against injury was too high for USA Hockey to pay. Johnson said that for this reason, most of the camp has instead involved getting to know his teammates, watching video and attending meetings to sort things out before the team travels to Sochi.
"The main difference is that we're watching a lot of video for how they want us to do things as opposed to walking through it on the ice," said Johnson. "There has been a lot of time to ask questions because there's not enough time to let anything linger. We're only going to have one on-ice practice together.
"But we're not trying to reinvent the wheel or anything; a lot of what we have been over is stuff guys did on previous teams or are already doing, so there should not be much of a learning curve of how we want to play. The learning curve is really learning each other and getting to know one another."
Though the orientation camp is the first stop on Team USA's journey to Sochi, Johnson said that his focus is on taking the process "one step at a time" and he would be honored to represent his country for the 13th time in international competition.
"Internationally, everyone wants to go and play on foreign soil. Playing overseas and representing the United States in the Olympics is a once in a lifetime experience and a huge honor."