Derik Johnson, the son of former Coyotes defenseman Jim Johnson, considers himself an Arizona hockey trailblazer.
“It was an interesting experience for me, moving from a hockey hotbed (Minnesota) to somewhere where not a lot of people knew the game of hockey,” Johnson said. “But it has grown now and it’s pretty cool to say that you grew up as an 18-year-old playing hockey in the state of Arizona.”
Johnson was one of the first members of the PF Chang’s Tier I Hockey Organization, a group started by his father that provides an elite level of competition for high school-aged players who excel on the ice.
Jim Johnson started the program when he realized his son had a passion for hockey and needed top-level talent to play against.
“I decided at that time, he wanted to play so bad, and loved the game so much, that I thought there’s only one way that he’s going to have a chance, being in the state of Arizona and playing, and that’s if I decided to develop and coach the group of kids that he was playing with,” Johnson said.
And ever since Jim Johnson planted those first seeds, the organization has grown leaps and bounds.
“Our PF Chang’s program competed with the top teams in Chicago, Michigan and Minnesota,” Jim Johnson said. “It was a nationally ranked program and we competed with the top teams in the country.”
| Derik Johnson |
Derik Johnson, who is currently a defenseman in the junior ranks with the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League, says the talent that has emerged from the program is amazing.
“From our team we’ll have two NHL draft picks and I think we’re on pace to have 10 or 11 NCAA commitments off the midget team, which is absolutely unheard of, to have that much talent on one team on one year,” Derik Johnson said.
He added, “It’s pretty remarkable and it gives kids the opportunity to go on and play now and try to fill the shoes of what we kind of put in place. It gives them a lot to live up to.”
Derik Johnson says that the emergence of the PF Chang’s program will go a long way to helping grow hockey in the desert.
“Traditionally, Phoenix is not a hockey market, but ever since the Coyotes got there in 1996 it’s really grown a lot, and with the development of the PF Chang’s program there, it has given players the chance to play at a high level and still live at home,” Derik Johnson said.
“It’s really been nice to see for the Valley and for all the hockey people there to see their own kids starting to play at the next level.”