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My Journey to the NHL - Ryan Johnson

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks

Ryan Johnson is known for the fearless way he blocks shots and when he's out on the penalty kill, you feel a little more secure knowing that he'll risk hisbody to make sure the other team doesn't get one in the back of the net.

But like all NHL hockey players, it didn't come over night and it didn't come without sacrifice and hard work.  Moving from level to level, the transition isn't always seamless so it means making adjustments and adjusting to the game - something Johnson attributes to his success in the League.

Family and humility are two things the 32 year-old centre doesn't forget and the lessons he learned growing up are the foundations of who he is today.

Johnson shares his tales on his road to the NHL.
How old were you when you received your first pair of skates?

I would say probably 3... As soon as I could walk, my dad was strapping skates on me. I had two older brothers so I never really got the new skates – I got the hand-me-downs.

How did you get into hockey?

I’ve always loved the game and watching my two older brothers start to play, it was just a natural step for me to take. I think in Thunder Bay hockey is really religious so it was a no-brainer.

What was hockey like in your hometown?

Everybody and anybody played so it’s such a big part of our community. I was so fortunate to have so many great coaches and teachers in the game. Everybody in Thunder Bay is a huge hockey fan and spend a lot of time at the rink.

Growing up, the rink was my...

Home away from home

How much time did you spend at the rink?

Between my two older brothers playing, we were either going to the rink for your own game or someone else’s. So, if I wasn’t playing, I was watching, running around, so it seemed like two or three hours every night, I would be sitting at the rink.

What was your first hockey team?

We were the Neebing Baby Blackhawks. Yes, that was our team. It was mustard yellow and green jerseys – pretty ugly.

I was around six years old and I would say my skating back then was very weak – on a scale of 1-10... probably a one.

A lot of my great friends today are still on that team with me. A lot of great memories from tournaments, playing ball hockey in the hallways and two or three of those guys are still my best friends today.

Some of the best times were when we were messing around in the pool, being in the arcade, things like that – those times that don’t have anything to do with the on-ice that are the most memorable.

What role did your family have in your hockey career growing up?

Everything. We had a rink in our backyard that my dad would spend hours upon hours building and flooding every night when he came home from work. My dad was basically my hero.

At least a couple nights a week, he would have me out in the backyard skating around garbage cans and doing all these things that, at the time, I didn’t know how lucky I was and how much I would benefit from it.

He also used the game to teach me a lot of life skills that, again, I didn’t understand at the time, and now am really thankful for.

My dad’s everything to me and through all the different levels with me, as well as my brothers, my sister and my mom. I wouldn’t be here today without any of them.

What is your proudest hockey moment?

My family’s such a big part of my life that being able to play in university, I played college hockey with my brother, Corey, which was a huge thrill.

Then, to be able to play against my other brother, Greg, in the NHL – he played for Detroit, Nashville, and Pittsburgh – and to play against him was such a huge thrill for me but for my parents as well.

I think it was a huge moment for them to sit at home and watch their two sons play each other in the NHL was just such a special night for me.

What was the best advice you’ve ever received?

He often talked a lot about work ethic and if I put my mind to something, there’s nothing that can get in the way of me achieving it.

The other thing was how I would treat people, he would always encourage me to treat people how I wanted to be treated and that’s always something I would keep in the back of my mind.

My dad always kind of preached humility to me and being thankful for everything you get, appreciating where you are. I think that I’ve been so fortunate to play in this league and get where I am.

What advice would you give to someone who’s hoping to get to the NHL?

If you make the commitment and do the little things and truly give it everything you have, at the end of the day, if you don’t make it, at least you can say that you left it all out there.

It’s those people that only give a partial effort and later down the line, regret not putting it all on the line. There’s a lot of guys who maybe make it to the NHL that don’t necessarily have the most skill but they had it all up in their head to adapt and understand that if they work as hard as they could and treat people the right way, they give themselves the best chance to get there.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to get to the NHL?

You need to be able to adjust and take rejection, in a sense. You can deal with rejection in so many different ways – you have to be able to step back and adjust your game because it’s not always the most skilled guys, it’s the guys that are willing to do little things to adjust their game.

We’re all scorers as we come up but not everybody can be a scorer in the NHL but to be able to add things to your game and work on other parts of the game, to be well-rounded as a player as you can be. I think it’s the guys that can do that and work at the things that you’re not good at and not just the things that you are good at.

You’re not going to make every team you try out for, you’re not going to go right from junior or college and right to the NHL. You can go down to the minors and make excuses for why you’re not in the NHL but I always looked at going to the minors as a short stop for me before I got to the NHL and I never saw any longevity to it because I thought it was the best way to approach it.

Do you ever still get the feeling like this is unbelievable that you've made it here?

Yes, I do, although I feel like I deserve to be here because I worked so hard at it and put so much time in it as a teenager where I made some sacrifices instead of being out doing other things and miss out on certain things because I was committed to doing this.

But nonetheless, I still, everyday driving to the rink, see guys or I’m on the ice at practice, it never gets old to me. I still feel so fortunate to be doing this. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t sit there and - I mean, even last night, I was thinking about that exact thing about how cool and how lucky I am to be playing in Vancouver and the experiences that I’ve had. It’s funny you asked, because it never gets old.
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