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JOHNSON HONOURED BY BROOKS BANDIT

The goaltender is the first inductee to the Smith Group Bandits Wall of Fame

by Aaron Vickers @AAVickers / CalgaryFlames.com

CALGARY - Chad Johnson remembers it well.

His Brooks Bandits one on side.

The Calgary Canucks on the other.

Division semifinal. 

Game 6.

Max Bell Arena.

"The first year Brooks made the playoffs," Johnson recounts. 

"It was my second year. A bunch of fans made the trip to Calgary. All the fans brought air horns to the game at Max Bell. They all got kicked out of the game … the Brooks fans did, for having the air horns and noisemakers.

"That next game back in Brooks, it was Game 7 all the fans in Brooks brought air horns because it wasn't banned in Brooks. They brought air horns and noisemakers. Just to prove a point to Calgary fans in our rink there. It was pretty special. 

"The atmosphere was unbelievable. 

"I remember winning that Game 7 and going onto the next round.

"It was pretty special for the city and for myself."

Truth be told, it's Game 5 that stands out most to his coach at the time. 

Specifically, the key moment that turned that match-up around. 

"We were down 3-1 in that series," says Kevin Higo, Johnson's coach for the 2004-05 season.

"I remember in Game 5 he made a backdoor save that was a phenomenal save, but it was almost like the guys on the team didn't get overly excited because that's just what we expected of him.

"But in Game 5 he had to make a couple sprawling saves. 

"Then he shut them out in Game 6.

"There were three busloads of fans from Brooks. They let them all into the building, and they all brought air horns and blow horns and as soon as they started blowing them, they kicked them all out.

"We won that game and went back to Brooks, and for Game 7 they attached a bunch of semi-truck air horns in the building and brought in, and still have now, sirens and flashing lights from a police car above the press box.

"It was so loud in there we were giving fans earplugs to wear at the game.

"They had a power play and he made a couple big saves. And then we took off from there. 

"He was so calm. We called him a blocker. He was always in the right spot at the right time. He didn't make huge flashy saves.

"Those three games are how I remember him. 

"And how he carried the team through that and played so well."

It was the climax of Johnson's tenure with the Bandits, and one of many memories that will flood back to the Calgary Flames goaltender when he is honoured on Chad Johnson Night at the Centennial Regional Arena on Friday.

Johnson will become the team's first inductee to the Smith Group Bandits Wall of Fame, a new distinction for team alumni and their accomplishment, both with Brooks and beyond. 

"It's special to be recognized by a former team, a junior team, one close to home for myself," Johnson says. "It's humbling to know they think highly of what I've accomplished so far. It's sort of an honour for them, too, I think, for me to be able to honour them and thank them for what they've done for my life as a person and as a hockey player. 

"It's special to go back there."

A lot has changed since the now 30-year-old tended twine in Southern Alberta as a teenager. 

He spent four years at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and was named Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) Player of the Year, a first-team all-star, and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. 

He turned pro after his senior season, and has since had stints with the New York Rangers, Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and Flames. 

But he was a Bandit well before all that.

And just a kid. 

"Oh boy," starts Johnson, who still holds the Bandits franchise record with a single-season save percentage of .923 in 2004-05.

"I mean … I had big dreams of playing in the NHL.

"The mental side, I know how just mentally all over the place I was. That's the biggest thing. I think when you're young you're thinking about where other players are, whether they're in the WHL or making the World Juniors or doing this, doing that. You're always so worried about everybody else.

"Looking back at where my mindset was … it wasn't in the right place. That's why I think it was nice I had time to develop in university and mature away from the rink. 

"Really, that helped me, in Brooks, to grow up. 

"Be away from home, have billets, do the long road trips.

"It was a great experience for myself."

For both sides, Higo suggested.

Johnson left the team in better shape than how he had inherited it.

"The year we made the playoffs turned that franchise around," he said. "He was a big part of it.

"It's kind of ironic that it's happening. 

"I was going through a whole bunch of old DVDs and I found this DVD … we had the first round bye so we took the team to Lethbridge and did a team-building weekend. We did a draft and played some 3-on-3 hockey and went bowling and did a bunch of stuff.

"He was a captain of the team and running the draft and the way he was doing it was so professional. He was just so focused and determined. Guys are having a great time, but you could tell he was focused on why we were doing it, but he wanted to play more than anything.

"You can tell he hasn't changed. 

"I saw the 'After Hours' on Hockey Night in Canada (in December) and he hasn't changed a whole bunch. Some of the comments he made and the way he carries himself … he's a thinker. He thinks before he speaks. 

"He was so focused.

"He was determined and knew what he wanted to do."

And Brooks will honour just that.

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