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Ex-Jr. Duck Johnson helps Team USA win gold in World Jr. A Challenge

by Chris Bayee / Special to AnaheimDucks.com

Ryan Johnson likes to let his play speak for itself.

The message from the longtime Anaheim Jr. Ducks defenseman is coming through loud and clear this season.

Johnson helped Team USA defeat Russia, 2-0, on Sunday for the gold medal at the World Junior A Challenge at Bonnyville, Alberta. That came one day after he was selected the U.S. Player of the Game after a 3-2 overtime victory against Canada West in the semifinals.

"It was an unbelievable experience," Johnson said. "Our group came along real well and got very close as a team. We won because of that, as well as good coaching. We had a lot of determination to win and everyone wanted to be better."

Johnson, who is in his rookie season with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League, earned his second gold medal competing for Team USA in the past 16 months. He and former Jr. Ducks teammate Josh Groll teamed up on Team USA's gold-medal-winning team at last summer's U17 Five Nations Cup.

Johnson was named to the U.S. Junior Select Team, which is comprised of players that compete in junior hockey leagues across the nation, in mid-November. The team helped the United States win gold at the World Junior A Challenge for the fifth time in seven years against a field that included two teams from Canada and one each from the Czech Republic and Russia.

Sunday's championship victory also avenged a 4-3 loss to the Russians in the final round-robin game, which gave Team USA with a 2-1-1 preliminary-round record. Earlier, the Americans had lost to Canada West, 2-1, in a shootout.

"It was nice to get redemption against both teams," Johnson said. "We knew we could have won both (earlier) games. We were happy to win when we did. It was an awesome feeling."

This latest gold medal continued what has been a remarkable two years for Johnson, who also is a highly ranked prospect for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. NHL Central Scouting rated him as a B skater on its preliminary watch list in October, meaning he's projected to be a second- or third-round choice next June. A recent issue of The Hockey News predicted he will be a late first-round pick.

  • In March of 2017, he joined former Jr. Ducks teammates Cam York and Nicholas Kent at the U.S. National Team Development Program's evaluation camp.
  • Two months later, the Stampede made him the highest-drafted Californian ever in the USHL Futures Draft when he went third overall.
  • In August of 2017, he and Groll teamed up on the U.S. U17 Five Nations Cup gold-medal winners.
  • In March, he helped lead Santa Margarita Catholic High School to a USA Hockey Youth Nationals championship, scoring 11 points at the national tournament.
  • In April, he helped the Jr. Ducks' 16U AAA team win the club's first medal at the USA Hockey Youth Nationals, when they captured a bronze.
  • This summer he committed to the University of Minnesota. He is one of 20 Division I college commitments from the Jr. Ducks in the past five years and one of seven 2001 birth years to commit thus far. The latter group includes longtime teammates York (Michigan) and Kent (Quinnipiac), as well as Jonathan Panisa (UMass-Amherst).
  • This fall he began his junior career in Sioux Falls and has been one of the Stampede's top defensemen despite being the second-youngest one on their roster. He has eight points through 18 games, second among Stampede defensemen, and also has played the second most games among the team's rookie defensemen.  

He said junior hockey has been an enjoyable experience, and one full of learning.

"Already in Sioux Falls I've learned to simplify my game and play as hard as I can every shift," he said.

As he reflected on the events of the past few weeks - and years - Johnson took the long view on all of it.

"It's been an eventful and fun year," Johnson said. "I've got to keep going and get better. These experiences will help me grow and help me make lifelong memories."

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