won’t soon forget the feeling of walking out of the home locker room at Yost Ice Arena, toward the rink with “Hail to the Victors” resonating throughout the building.
For any player who has been part of Michigan’s storied hockey program, it represents some of the best years of their life but it’s also an experience that stays with them beyond Ann Arbor. Johnson is no different, and like many Wolverine alumni who have seen life take them to all corners of the world, takes advantage of every opportunity to stay connected to the program and the Michigan community.
The annual alumni game is the most-anticipated weekend of the year, Johnson said, and one that he (and others) would do anything short of moving mountains to attend.
“I’ve been playing in the alumni game for three or four years now, and it’s something I look forward to every summer,” Johnson told BlueJackets.com. “I get to see classmates that I normally wouldn’t see because guys are playing hockey or have jobs outside of the state of Michigan, so we don’t see each other very often.
“It’s one of those things that everyone clears their calendar for, and just says ‘alright on this weekend, no matter what, we’re going to be there and play in the alumni game and visit with each other.’ As former players, it’s something we look forward to every year.”
The alumni game is more than just an hour-long hockey game – it’s a weekend of activities that includes dinners, welcome receptions, and a heavy dose of catching up with longtime friends and former teammates.
Friday night’s highlight is the alumni game, but the following morning, the weekend kicks off with a golf outing at the University of Michigan Golf Course. Not exactly known as the world’s most avid golfer, Johnson also looks forward to hitting the links – but for reasons aside from being competitive.
“I’m always part of a foursome with some of my buddies and none of us are exactly Tiger Woods, which makes it even more fun,” Johnson said. “I’m definitely the worst golfer of the group…the one time I play golf all year is the golf outing. I have a blast with them. Most of the fun is actually in between our golf shots and then I’m the comic relief when I snap one into the woods or onto the road.”
As for the hockey game itself, don’t expect a Game 7 atmosphere, Johnson said. The age groups are all well-represented, with the Wolverines’ 73-year-old head coach Red Berenson (entering his 30th season in Ann Arbor) among those lacing up the skates.
Goaltender Shawn Hunwick – who enjoyed a brief NHL stint with the Blue Jackets in 2011-12, will be in attendance this weekend along with NHL veteran forward Mike Knuble.
It may be a friendly game, but if it’s a close contest going down the stretch…don’t rule anything out.
“Who knows? We might shorten the bench a bit and ramp it up at the end…there are some bragging rights at stake,” Johnson joked. “There’s a wide range of ages out there, too. The pace will definitely start to pick up with a little on the line.
“(Berenson) is definitely one of the better players out there still. It’s amazing. I think he’s in better shape than half of the guys on the team.”
Johnson makes his offseason home in Ann Arbor and regularly works out with members of both the Michigan hockey program as well as the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) located in town, but he’s one of the lucky ones who get to stay close to it all.
Above all else, the alumni weekend is about the memories and the people who were also part of the Michigan hockey family. That’s what makes it special.
“The guys who are in other careers, it’s hard to see each other and even then it can be few and far between,” Johnson said. “For everyone who’s played here, it’s a very special time in your life and it means a lot to us. Playing hockey here was a real special experience for everyone.
“It’s great to come out, have some fun, step on the ice and hear the fight song again…it kind of reminds you of a real game back in Ann Arbor. It’s a walk down memory lane and reminds you of what a great time you had here.”
Images courtesy of JackJohnson3.com and MichiganDaily.com.