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by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
There are over 600 players in the NHL. None, however, is labeled more appropriately than a promising young defenseman on the Kings’ blueline.

Is there any way a player named Jack Johnson Highlights could be anything but the All-American type?

Johnson, the Kings 21-year-old rearguard, was born in Indianapolis, attended prep school in Faribault, Minn., and went on to college at the University of Michigan. At Michigan, you guessed it, Johnson earned All-American honors. Johnson’s American roots run so deep, in fact, that he takes particular pride in another alma mater: USA Hockey.

After teaming with Sidney Crosby — a Canadian — at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, Johnson left Minnesota to spread his wings and fly as a member of Team USA’s National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“It was a great experience for me,” Johnson said. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I left home and the school I was attending and went to that program, and it couldn’t have worked out better. They helped me both physically and mentally. I was playing against the best players in the world a few times a year in international tournaments and practicing with the best players in the country every day.”

The experience meant so much to Johnson that he still keeps close tabs on Team USA.

“I still watch the World Junior Tournament, the World Championships, Olympics,” Johnson said. “I watch everything Team USA competes in. I’m always rooting for them and I follow the under-17 and under-18 teams. I check up on how they are doing, and I definitely feel like I’m part of that program.”

Johnson was born seven years after the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympics. His watershed moment as an American hockey fan came in 1996, when he was nine years old, and the United States shocked the world by defeating Canada to win the World Cup.

“That was the first experience I had watching Team USA,” Johnson said. “It was cool for me to watch, especially because they won the tournament.”

The only thing cooler?

“Being able to play against some of the guys from that team, like Chris Chelios, Mike Modano, and Keith Tkachuk. Now, that’s really cool.”

Johnson was named to the 2007-08 NHL YoungStars squad, which competed at the All-Star game in Atlanta, Ga.

Given that Johnson’s earliest memory of Team USA is of its World Cup championship team, he believes American hockey can be — and should be — a world power. And given that he has played at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, Michigan and for Team USA, Johnson won’t be satisfied until the Kings are a power, too.

He has no patience for people who believe that losing can be used as a learning tool on the way to building a winner.

“I think a lot of people try to justify losing,” Johnson said. “But I don’t think you need to lose in order to win. I think losing stinks. Flat out, period. There’s no need for it. There’s nothing wrong with winning all the time. I don’t believe that you have to learn from losing before you can win.”

Although Johnson has no tolerance for losing, he does see value in slowly developing as a player. Johnson has been known as two-way defenseman throughout his career, but he spent the first half of his rookie season concentrating on defense. Now that he feels more comfortable in the Kings’ end of rink, he’s ready to start making his presence felt on the offensive end.

“That’s who I’ve been my whole life,” Johnson said, “so that’s where I’m comfortable. I don’t feel comfortable just being a defensive defenseman. I don’t feel like I’m really playing well unless I’m contributing on offense.”

One of the best examples of Johnson’s desire to become more involved offensively came at Vancouver Jan. 19. Johnson scored a goal and also attempted a remarkable, between the legs move.

“Jack’s intelligence is really awesome and it rubs off on you,” said teammate Jaroslav Modry, who has been a defensive partner. “He brings a lot to the game. He likes to hang onto the puck and spin around with it.”

Johnson says the best is yet to come.

“I’ve got a bag of tricks that I haven’t pulled out yet,” Johnson said. “I guess it’s just trying to get settled in. I’ve been trying to establish myself, and in that game in Vancouver, I just kind of decided to go for it. I’m starting to feel more comfortable and starting to be where I want to be out there.”

And the place where Johnson wants to be is the same place he’s always been.

Johnson is accustomed to being almost a point-a-game player. At Michigan, he had 32 points in 38 games as a freshman, followed by 39 points in 36 games as a sophomore. At Shattuck-St. Mary’s, he had 42 points in 48 games.

Johnson is a big part of USA Hockey.

“I want to show that you can be good at both ends of the ice,” Johnson said. “No one says you can only be good at one end. The whole year I’ve kind of been known as a defensive guy and I want to chip in more offense.”

While concentrating on defense, Johnson had two goals and six assists in the season’s first 49 games, but he’s far from satisfied with his game. He says he never will be.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be where I really want to be,” he said. “I think I have higher expectations for myself than anyone. When I reach a certain level, I set the bar even higher. You’re never satisfied.

“I don’t think anyone’s ever played the perfect hockey game and done everything perfectly. Even when everything seems to be clicking on all cylinders, there are going to be parts of your game that you’re not happy with.”

When Johnson’s rights were acquired by the Kings in a deal with Carolina in September of 2006, news of the deal was accompanied by the kind of buildup befitting an All-American. So far, he’s lived up to it.

“He’s better than I thought he would be,” said fellow Michigan alum Mike Cammalleri. “When we made the trade for him, there was so much hype. Guys come in with that kind of hype so often that you don’t know what to expect. Jack has really impressed a lot of people. I think he’s awesome.”

Johnson believes it’s only a matter of time before the young Kings are awesome, too.

“It might take a couple of years to really blossom,” he said. “But we have a lot of great young talent on this team. A lot of the young guys here are starting to come into their own. I think everyone, including me, is real excited about the future.”

Johnson sees himself developing into a two-way defenseman, while the Kings develop into a playoff contender.

That’s Jack Johnson’s idea of the American Dream.

Written by Doug Ward for Royal Reign

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