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Goalie heading to Europe for upcoming IIHF World Championship

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

To Hemingway, it was A Moveable Feast.

To millions of tourists and romantics, the City of Light.

To art lovers, the home of the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay.

To gastrophiles, the apex of sophisticated cuisine.

To Chad Johnson, it's providing an outlet to keep his hockey season going.

"Yeah, Paris,'' teases the Flames' immensely-personable goaltender.

"Could be worse."

Oh, yes. Much worse.

On Friday, Johnson was among four additions to Team Canada's bid for gold at the 2017 IIHF World Hockey Championships, being jointly-staged by Paris and Cologne, Germany.

Toronto freshman Mitch Marner, San Jose D-man Marc-Édouard Vlasic and Philly centre Brayden Schenn are the other new recruits.

Only days after being swept out of the NHL playoffs by the Anaheim Ducks, the Calgary-reared Johnson was initially tipped off by GM Brad Treliving to the possibility of an invite.

A follow-up call from Hockey Canada's Sean Burke - an old goaltending mentor from his one season in the Phoenix organization - two days ago sealed the deal.

Former Flames' tactician Dave King is on Jon Cooper's coaching staff for the tournament.

Canada opens up against the Czechs on May 5 at the 15,000-seat AccorHotels Arena.

The gold-medal final is set for LANXESS Arena in Cologne on May 21.

"It's been,'' Johnson admits, "a bit of whirlwind. Getting everything in order. Tickets. Insurance. I leave (Saturday) night.

"You go through year-end meetings, you have your plan set up to take a week or two to kind of indulge before training time, let your mind go, get away from the season before refocusing, rebuilding.

"Then you get a phone call and Bam!, that all changes.

"You look back and think 'Ahhhhh, I shouldn't have had that bag of chips …'"

Chad and wife Alex were married last June 26. Honeymoon plans had to be postponed as the pending UFA got down to the details of finding a new place of employment, which turned out to be the Scotiabank Saddledome.

In his first regular season as a Flame, Johnson went 18-15-0-1 with a 2.59 GAA and .910 save percentage. He had one playoff appearance, coming on for 52 minutes in relief of Brian Elliott in Game 4, allowing one goal on 22 shots.

Once again, his future is up in the air, as Johnson is a UFA.

"We were actually going down to Phoenix this week and talk about maybe going on that honeymoon we missed last year,'' he confesses. "Because last year with the free-agency period ending on July 1, me signing in Calgary, everything got a little crazy.

"Now, this year again we're having to put that on hold.

"My wife's taken a little bit of a back seat to my career so far, but she's been great about it. And I'll make it up to her."

This represents Johnson's second welcome opportunity to slip on Team Canada togs. At the 2010 Worlds, he subbed 73 minutes in three games as a relief pitcher, dented for only one goal.

"It was in my first year pro, with the Rangers, that I had a chance to represent Canada. The tournament was in Cologne, actually, so there's a bit of a nice tie-in there.

"I was so fresh to the league then, everything seemed so new, so different, that I don't know if I properly took everything in.

"The second time around I think I'll soak it in a little more, appreciate what's going on a bit more fully.

"Any time you can put on the Team Canada jersey, it's such a huge honour. There's nothing, in my mind, to compare.

"Being in my hometown and playing for the Flames is a different kind of experience, an amazing feeling, but representing your country is such a huge responsibility.

"Playing for Canada, I don't think you can top it.

"Obviously there's different levels to that - Olympics, for example - but at any tournament it's such a unique environment.

"I've only been to Europe through hockey. At 13, with a local peewee team, and then in Cologne, as I said.

"I love the culture over there, and the atmosphere at games among the fans is fantastic.

"Hockey Canada does such a great job of looking after players and their families, taking care of everybody."

In a city renowned for its abundance of pleasures, this trip is mostly business.

"Maybe we'll take some time once the tournament's over, depending on how far we go - all the way, in a perfect world - and do some sightseeing,'' he says, hopefully.

"We have a few days between games here and there, so we'll see what happens. Once you're done the 22nd of May, training becomes a priority again.

"So even if we do, I don't think it'll count as an official honeymoon. But she'll get one. I promise. Eventually."

The whirlwind's almost at an end The packing's almost complete. Flight's booked. Passport out. Insurance taken care of.

Just when Chad Johnson thought his hockey season was over …

"'I'm excited. It's a chance to keep playing. A chance to get some of that bad taste of the playoffs out of my mouth. A chance to play for Canada again."

 And, well, it's Paris.

"Yeah,'' teases Johnson. "Paris."


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