Before every Ducks game, assistant coaches Craig Johnson and Brent Thompson make their way out to the bench for warmups. Accompanied by the team's video coaches, equipment staff and trainers, the warmup session is one of the final components of their pregame routine.

For the following 16 minutes, they'll watch their team zip the puck around in drills, chat with players leaning on the boards, keep an eye on the opponents' potential line combinations and maybe even get a feel for the ice that night.

Tonight though, the duo will have one more thing to monitor before puck drop at Honda Center - their sons.

Johnson's middle child, Ryan, and Thompson's eldest, Tage, visit Orange County tonight as part of the Buffalo Sabres and will face off with their dads for the first time in their hockey careers.

"CJ and I are pretty intense guys, but this is such a cool experience for both us," Anaheim's Thompson admitted after the morning skate. "We're both really excited for the whole thing to happen."

Added Johnson, "It really is a special moment. It's special for us both. I don't know which of us is going to be more emotional but we'll both be proud, for sure."

For Buffalo's Johnson, a former first-round pick who grew up a Ducks fan, the night is both a long-awaited matchup against Dad and a homecoming to the building where fell in love with the game.

"We kind of looked at in the summer and it was still so far off," Johnson recalled. "I was telling people that I'll hopefully be [on the NHL roster] and down there in California.

“Now I'm here, so thank God,” he said with a laugh.

"It feels good [to be here]. It's just a lot of fun being in the state, going home and seeing a lot of familiar sights. I skated at this rink when I was younger and I watched a lot of games here as well. It just feels really cool, being in the spot where I grew up."

The 22-year-old defenseman will have nearly 50 of his friends and family in the building, not counting Dad, for what will be his 28th NHL game. A former member of the Jr. Ducks, Johnson won a high school hockey national title in 2018 alongside his dad, who then served as the head coach at Santa Margarita Catholic High School.

"When you're growing up, everybody tells you that having kids goes quickly," Craig said. "And all of a sudden, we were in that year where he was going to leave (for junior hockey) really soon after the year was over. So we tried to enjoy it as much as we could. I got to travel with him. I got to eat on the road with him. I got to ride airplanes with him. We got to spend a lot of quality time together on the road doing something we both loved.

"He's always been one that loves the game. As I look back, it was really fun watching him develop."


That development made Johnson the second graduate of the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League to be drafted into the NHL - and the first to be selected in the first round.

"It's something you grow up dreaming of as a Jr. Duck," Johnson said through a smile. "It's special."

So the Johnsons have plenty of experience being on the same bench, but none going head-to-head. Fortunately for Anaheim, the coach affectionately known as "CJ" has seen nearly every Buffalo game this season and might be as good of a source as any for tonight's scouting report.

"He's agile and moves well," Craig said of his son. "We need to have good sticks [on the forecheck] and take away his time and space. Gotta make the game hard for him and them."

Said Ryan of his dad, "He watches quite a few of the games, even though he has his own team to watch. I'm excited that he's able to be here watching and coaching."

The elder Thompson, on the other hand, has some experience in the matter. The former bench boss of the American Hockey League's Bridgeport Islanders, he faced his younger son, Tyce, last year in a game against Utica, with Tyce collecting two points in a 5-2 win over his old man's squad. Suffice to say, Dad wants to make sure that doesn't happen again.

"It was a fun experience," Thompson recalled. "It was a great that I got to coach against my younger guy. To see him playing and the emotions that came with it, in an intense game, was so fun to be a part of. I'm expecting the same thing.

"At the drop of the puck though, it's a game. We want to win. I'm sure it'll be intense, like usual. We'll try to shut him down as much as we can and go from there."

But, ignoring the name on the back of the sweater, how do you shut down Buffalo's big, physical two-way center who can impact the game in so many ways?

"We have to have the attack mindset, the hunting mindset," Thompson said. "[Head coach Greg Cronin] has been preaching that all year. We want to make them play in their own end. We want to be physical. So if we're doing that, they can't get on the attack offensively."

Given the chance to reflect on their sons’ hockey careers, Johnson and Thompson both fondly recalled the memories of teaching their boys to skate, watching them fall in love with the game and realizing their unique talents may allow them to further that passion professionally. But more so than anything on the ice, the proud dads beamed most about the people their sons have become off of it.

"I am very, very proud of the person he has become," Thompson said. "The family man, the husband the father he is. To see him with his boy (two-year-old Brooks) pulls on the heartstrings quite a bit. To me, that is the biggest thing. The career is the career, but the way he treats people is what's important. He's respectful and humble.

"At the end of the day, I'm proud of the way he's a family man and a good person."

Said Tage of his dad, "He is the guy I lean on. I think throughout my entire life and my hockey career, he has always been the one I go to. He's been through it himself. He plays now he coaches. I'm very blessed to have someone like him in my life, as my father, and to be able to share those experiences with him...It's something I definitely don't take for granted.”

Added Johnson on his son, "[Ryan] treats people the right way. First and foremost, I'm proud of him for that."

But make no mistake, should the dads and their Ducks pull out the win tonight, some good-natured gloating will be in order.

"Oh yeah, it's bragging rights all summer and forever," Thompson said with a big laugh. "I already hear it from my younger one, how he beat me and had good games. So there will be plenty of bragging rights in the summer for sure."

Tage couldn’t help but agree. "This night,” he said, “is going to be a special one."