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Inside intel

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
If Ryan Johnson ever second guesses his calling as a hockey player and craves a career change, it might be worth his while to look into politics.


No Vancouver Canuck is better suited to work as a government official because in the land of contacts and hand shakes, Johnson would fit right in.

The 32-year-old forward has been the biggest draw in the Canucks locker room the past few days with members of the St. Louis Blues organization and visiting media all seeking out the one-time Blues player for a little face time.

Johnson played four and a half seasons in The Lou before signing with Vancouver this off-season, so naturally his former colleges are excited to see his familiar mug and vice-versa.

While it didn’t matter to Johnson who the Canucks opened the first round of the playoffs against, the familiarity he has with the Blues makes him an important player in this series.

Last season he played alongside 11 players currently on St. Louis’ active playoff roster. He practiced with them, traveled with them and went to war with them allowing him to collect a lot of inside intel along the way.

“They’ve got a good group of guys, a good leadership core there and with that coaching staff one thing you can guarantee is that they’re going to be a hard-working, disciplined team within their system,” said Johnson.

Drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, Johnson played two seasons with the University of North Dakota in the WCHA before two years of AHL hockey paved the way for a shot at the NHL.

He toiled around with the Panthers for the better part of three seasons after making his pro debut, but his career with the cats wasn’t mean to be, or so he thought, as he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

After a season and a bit there it was back to Florida; frustration grew for Johnson having been traded twice in three seasons and things went from bad to worse when he was placed on waivers midway through is second season back with the Panthers.

That’s when the Blues came into play as they recognized his hardnosed style of play and unrelenting determination and snatched him up as quickly as possible.

Johnson got his feet wet in 17 games with St. Louis in 2002-03 and the team saw enough promise to keep him around the following season.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Finally given the opportunity to be thrive, Johnson did just that. He finished the 2007-08 campaign with five goals and 13 assists, while establishing himself as a beast on the penalty kill thanks in part to his 105 blocked shots, the most of any NHL forward last year.

"It was great years, I was given a great opportunity and I played a lot of hockey and a lot of good hockey there,” said Johnson of his time in St. Louis.

“I had some great coaches and it’s a great city, a great hockey city, so I don’t have anything but fond memories.”

Those memories regrettably include missing the post-season the final three years, which ended a streak of 25-straight seasons of playoff hockey in St. Louis.

“To go from my first couple years there when we had some pretty good teams to a real rebuilding process wasn’t easy.

“We had a lot of expectations from the city, the fans and the organization so obviously it was tough to swallow.”

Back in the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, the Blues currently ice a roster featuring 12 players who made their playoff debuts in Vancouver’s 2-1 win in Game 1 of the series.

They’re a young, upstart team that bullied their way into the playoffs down the stretch and although the players get the credit for winning when they had to in securing a post-season berth, Johnson said coach Andy Murray should be commended for what he’s done over the last three years.

Since Murray joined the Blues midway through the 2006-07 season, he’s helped right the ship with St. Louis improving by 14 points last year and 11 this season.

“He’s a fabulous coach, he’s a great teacher of the game, he understands players and treats them like men and talks to them like men.

“He has a great way of getting his point across and doing it in a positive manner where a player leaves feeling better about the situation although he’s maybe made some mistakes or has been doing some certain things wrong.

“He can definitely fine tune things and have you leave the rink feeling good.”

Johnson’s final piece of advice regarding the Blues pertains to games three and four, which will go down in St. Louis on Sunday and Tuesday.

After playing a whack of games as a fan favourite, Johnson will enter the Scottrade Center as the enemy and he said that’s not an enviable position to be in.

“It can be very difficult, they’ve got a great crowd, a rowdy crowd, and they play very well in their own arena.

“They make it tough on you so we’re going to have to keep our energy high, short shifts, and hopefully just start things off good here and let our momentum carry us over there.”

So far, so good on that front for Johnson and the Canucks as they look to take a 2-0 series lead Friday night at GM Place.




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