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#WCH2016: Johnson relishing opportunity with Team USA

29-year-old will be relied upon as Team USA seeks a World Cup of Hockey title

by Craig Merz / Columbus Blue Jackets

COLUMBUS -- Jack Johnson is happy to be with Team USA in preparation for the World Cup of Hockey 2016. Just ask him, or Brandon Dubinsky .

Even though their dressing room stalls are across the room from each other in Nationwide Arena, the evidence is unmistakable.

"He's smiling all the time," said Dubinsky, a Team USA and Columbus Blue Jackets teammate. "You can tell this means a lot to him."

Johnson, 29, won a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He's played for the United States numerous times, including two times at IIHF World Junior Championship and five times at the IIHF World Championship.

But he was not selected for the 2014 Sochi Olympics and was upset by what he thought was a snub.

"You never know if it's your last shot," Johnson said Tuesday. "I had a lot of faith that it wasn't. I knew I could still play. I'm young. I never doubted myself. But you never know if you are going to get back. It's something that I cherish. It's the biggest honor in sports."

Johnson was informed in May by Team USA general manager Dean Lombardi that he had been picked for the World Cup.

"A lot of emotions ran through me," Johnson said. "The biggest was the excitement and the opportunity. We were so close in Vancouver. We were one goal in overtime from a gold medal. I always wanted another crack at that. If we win a World Cup here with this group it would be a lasting memory."

Johnson's game had slipped for several seasons leading to the 2014 Olympics. He had six goals and 14 points in 60 games, but looked like he had regained some of his swagger prior to sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury Feb. 25. He had surgery March 17 but said he's completely healthy now.

"To be quite honest I thought from start to finish I had a good year," in 2015-16, Johnson said. "Personally it was much better than the year before. It was just getting back to having fun playing hockey again. I had a lot of ups and downs away from the game. Having and enjoying the purity of the sport has helped me get back on the right track."

He's one of seven Team USA defensemen and may be in a competition with Erik Johnson for the sixth and seventh spots.

Team USA and Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said he's glad Jack Johnson is on the team.

"He is a true patriot. He believes in the country," he said. "The thing I love about him is he'll make a mistake through aggression. I'd rather have a guy that way rather than testing the waters.

"He is as low-maintenance a guy around. He just wants to play the game the right way. He's selfless. He's not looking for accolades. He doesn't have an ego. It's not about him. It's about the team and his country."

TWICE AS NICE: Practice Wednesday was the first that was open to the public. Practice on Thursday also will be open.

Team USA worked on the power play at Nationwide Arena for about 15 minutes and then spent nearly an hour on the adjacent practice rink. The fans were able to watch from both venues.

THEY SAID IT: Ryan Kesler was asked if it's hard to put differences with rivals on the ice aside to play for Team USA:

"I'm good friends with all these guys. We've played together for so long I don't think anybody really has a beef with anybody. If anybody had a beef with anybody, it's probably with me."

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