|Jack Johnson is one of three Kings challenging for a spot on the Team USA roster.
The rousing speech in the movie "Miracle" given by coach Herb Brooks to his squad of college players moments before they took the ice to defeat the Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympics resonates with Jack Johnson."You were born to be hockey players -- every one of ya.
And you were meant to be here tonight.
This is your time."
Brooks' speech, portrayed in a film nearly 25 years later, was delivered Feb. 22, 1980, some seven years before Johnson, a Los Angeles Kings defenseman, was born. But Johnson knows the history behind the words, even feels them stoke his national pride and competitive fire.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't in the back of my head. For me personally, I've always dreamed of being an Olympian," he told NHL.com. "Growing up I watched the Summer Games and Winter Games and thought about how cool it would be to be on a stage that big. For the rest of your life you could say you're an Olympian."
But he's cautious not to get too far ahead of himself.
"For me, the most important thing is to set that aside, play well during the regular season and let everything take care of itself," Johnson said.
So far, so good.
Johnson was one of the lucky 34 players to attend the U.S. Olympic Orientation Camp in suburban Chicago in July. Though so much will depend on his play from October through December, Johnson understands that being at the camp -- not to mention his history with the U.S National Team Developmental Program and previous participation in the World Junior Championships and the World Championships -- gives him a leg up."Now go out there and take it!" -- Herb Brooks
"It was a fun time, like a USA Hockey reunion," Johnson recalled of the three-day camp. "Most of us have played together at some point, especially since it was a young group this time. We all played with each other at some point, whether it was World Juniors or World Championships. It was a good time, but it was an intense three days on the ice, getting to know each other and getting the sense that guys are really gearing up for Vancouver."
Somewhere, somehow, U.S. GM Brian Burke and coach Ron Wilson are keeping tabs on their American-born charges, probably devising line combination and defense pairings on press-box napkins. Their task is to pick the roster of 23 that will head to Vancouver in February, and they made it known to the players at camp that their success in the early part of the NHL regular season will be a big measuring stick.
Johnson is getting the job done, with a goal and 3 points in his first eight games while averaging a team-high 22:40 of ice time per game. But he'll have to tidy-up that minus-4 rating.
"I'm pretty satisfied, but I'm never 100-percent satisfied. That's what keeps an athlete going," said Johnson, also taking a measure of pride in the Kings' 4-4-0 start (they had been 4-1-0 through five games). "The numbers are pretty good, and most of all we've been winning hockey games and having a great start, so that's the most important thing. We wanted to jump out to a good start."
Johnson is in his third full season, though he missed exactly half of 2008-09 with a shoulder injury. After scoring 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists) as a rookie in 2007-08, Johnson matched that point total (with 6 goals, 5 assists) in the last 41 games of 2008-09 after he was activated off injured reserve Jan. 17. He's certain to establish a new career-high in points after recording a goal and 2 assists in his first nine games.
"The game is slowing down for me and I feel comfortable out there. I don't feel that there are any situations out there where I have my head spinning," Johnson said. "I feel very comfortable out there and feel like I can handle all situations."
Actually, the Kings can have quite an impact on the composition of the U.S. squad at the Winter Games. In addition to Johnson, Los Angeles teammates Dustin Brown
and Jonathan Quick
attended the Chicago camp with red, white and blue aspirations.
"Since the start of the season we've put that behind us," Johnson said. "But before then we talked about it a little bit and we do talk about it now just because we're very aware of all the drug testing and everything that's going on, making sure we're up to date with letting people know where we are and how to get a hold of us. Not that we're worried about testing positive, but there are a lot of things that get involved with getting a hold of us when they want to test us.
"I think the cooler part about stuff like that is being at camp and meeting guys from all around the League and greeting each other. We try to get together before games, and we Americans try to stick together. There's a real brotherhood there all throughout the League.
"Regardless of whether it's an Olympic year, my last two years when I got to St. Louis I try to get together with Erik Johnson, T.J. Oshie and David Backes. When I go to New York and play the Islanders I try to find Kyle Okposo, and Peter Mueller in Phoenix. We always try to get together and see each other and stay in touch during the year."
Johnson certainly hopes Burke and Wilson will have a reason to stay in touch with him as the season progresses. Final Olympic rosters must be filed with the International Ice Hockey Federation in late December, about a month before the Kings make their only visit to Toronto, where Burke and Wilson run the Maple Leafs.
"I don't think that has too big of a factor. I got to play in front of both of them for three weeks back in the spring at the World Championships, so I know that they know what I can do," Johnson said. "They know me as a player and as a person off the ice. I'm just trying to do my part, helping the Kings win and hoping that everything else takes care of itself."
Certainly anyone involved with USA Hockey also knows what Johnson brings to the table. He's been on their radar as early as 2003-04 as a member of the Under-17 U.S National Team Developmental Program. After two years under the tutelage of USA Hockey, Johnson attended the University of Michigan in 2005-06, but always has answered the toll when his country called for international tournaments.
"(The Olympics would be) definitely a whole other level from anything I've played in. But I know that I have a lot of experience playing against international competition and I know exactly what to expect in the international game," Johnson said. "There's no question the Olympics is bigger and better than any of those other tournaments. It's the biggest stage in the world. The biggest honor in sports is to represent your country in the Olympics."
Contact Rocky Bonanno at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Rocky Bonanno | NHL.com Staff Writer