ST. LOUIS - People often say it takes a special person to be goaltender, stopping pucks flying at you at roughly 100 miles an hour. What you don't hear about as much is the fearlessness of the skaters who get in front of those shots - something former Blue Ryan Johnson did over and over again to the tune of having 105 blocked shots in the 2007-08 season alone.
Known for his grit on special teams, the center spent just over four seasons with the Blues, racking up 49 points and 122 penalty minutes. We caught up with the vigorous penalty-killer to reflect on his playing days and talk about how he is still involved in hockey.
BLUES: During your time in the League you were known for succeeding at a lot of the tough roles like penalty killing and shot blocking. Was it ever hard to talk yourself into getting in front of some of those shots and living up to that expectation?
JOHNSON: No, not at all…. I think the shot blocking side of it became a little bit gimmicky at some point. It was a part of what I did, but people paid so much attention to it and thought I was crazy... but it was such a small part of my game to me. It's just something I was willing to do, especially if it meant success on the penalty kill and eventually winning a game. I never had any fear of it, even after injuries. It's a rough game and injuries will happen regardless, so I really have no regrets there!
BLUES: You were with the Blues for more than four seasons. Do you have a favorite memory from your time in St. Louis?
JOHNSON: I absolutely adored the city, and the organization was outstanding to me. A lot of my career I judge on the success of the teams I played on, and we had some really good teams my early years there. From a personal standpoint, there's a group of players I played with that are still best friends to this day. I just saw Barret Jackman over the weekend. Those relationships I made in St. Louis are something I'll carry with me forever.
BLUES: You're the Director of Player Development for the Vancouver Canucks. What does that job entail?
JOHNSON: For me, a lot of the conversations that I have with our kids is between the ears… their mental approach to their careers, and the professionalism they're going to have to learn to have a successful career. But, from a development standpoint, we put all the resources in front of these guys as we can, which is skating coaches, skill coaches, and off-ice conditioning coaches. It's ultra important that whenever we draft or sign a kid as a free agent that we know not only what they're good at, but also what their deficiencies are, and improve upon those.
BLUES: What's the biggest lesson you learned during your hockey career that you and your staff try to pass down to the players you work with?
JOHNSON: The biggest thing is I don't think young players always understand the commitment or the sacrifice they're going to have to make. Not just a few days a week, but pretty much every minute of their lives. That's why it's so hard to get there, but it's well worth it. I never want any player that comes through our system sitting five or six years down the road having regrets and watching someone they could've been.
BLUES: As someone watching the young talent daily, what has it been like to see the game transition from having more big enforcers to having so many quick skill players?
JOHNSON: It's interesting how much faster the game moves now. Now players who can't skate have a tough time staying in the League, where as a decade ago it was more of size and strength, and guys that couldn't really find a way around the ice still found a way to survive. The game is certainly evolving, and that's the beauty of it. It's ever-changing and it makes it a fun game to watch.
BLUES: Since retiring from the game you've started a family. How's life as a dad?
JOHNSON: It's the greatest thing I've ever done. I've been fortunate to live a great life with experiences of traveling and playing in the NHL, I've been very fortunate. But all of that is kind of just bland in comparison to being a father, so it's the best thing I've ever accomplished…That's for sure.
BLUES: Do you see hockey in your son's future?
JOHNSON: I'm one of the guys that will throw anything and everything in front of my kids, from sports, to arts… you name it. They can find their passions and find their loves, but just because I played I'm never going to be the one to force it. But whatever it is they choose, when they ask for help or guidance at how to be the best they can be at it, I think I've developed a formula to be able to advise a child on how to be their best at whatever it is!