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Tyler Johnson looks to avoid sophomore slump after breakout rookie season

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

Even after Tampa Bay Lightning forward prospect Tyler Johnson far exceeded expectations during his rookie season in the American Hockey League last year, neither he nor Syracuse Crunch general manager Julien BriseBois are paying much attention to the almost fabled notion that is the notorious sophomore slump.

The rumblings, however, are out there.

It’s become a given that every rookie who has a successful first season will be targeted for supposed doom the following year. And even if Johnson himself says it won’t happen, he can’t deny that he isn’t immune to hearing talk about it.

“As a player it’s always tough to avoid hearing what people are going to say, but for me, I know the bottom line is that I can’t get comfortable,” Johnson said. “I’m always pushing to be better and that’s something that I’ve always had to do throughout my entire career, so going into this season shouldn’t be any different.”

Tyler Johnson
Tyler Johnson
Center - TBL

That is, except for maybe the fact that the expectations placed upon Johnson and the entire team, for that matter, have been raised.

After all, the upcoming season’s version of the Crunch (formerly the 2011-12 Norfolk Admirals) are coming off a Calder Cup championship season, thus to say that a large target has been placed on the club’s collective back.

Johnson, of course, proved in large part to contribute to the team’s success, ranking seventh in league scoring with 68 points throughout the regular season and adding another 14 points in 14 postseason games.

So while his rookie season wasn’t by any means bad for a kid playing his first year in the professional ranks, it perhaps, believe it or not, wasn’t good enough, at least by Johnson’s standards.

“The second you take a moment off, there are 100 guys right behind you who are going to pass you,” he added. “I had a good year last year, but like every player trying to make it to the NHL one day, you always want more.”

Naturally, Johnson did more.

Following the Admirals’ deep playoff run that culminated in championship fashion, Johnson hooked up with renowned personal trainer Drew Buchkoski – he who is famous for his work with professional athletes in both the National Football League and Major League Baseball – to become stronger, as well as joined his former junior club, the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League, to participate in summer workouts.

The second you take a moment off, there are 100 guys right behind you who are going to pass you. - Tyler Johnson

The result is that now just one week before Syracuse training camp opens, Johnson will arrive with 11 pounds of added muscle since the program started in early July, which he credits to Buchkoski’s specifically-tailored workout programs that focused heavily on bulking up in the weight room.

“I feel great, which can really boost your confidence going into camp just knowing that you’re going there a lot stronger and faster than you were a year ago,” Johnson said.

Adding to his confidence level was performing well on a good hockey team that made a deep run throughout the postseason last spring.

That’s when, as Johnson put it, “the two best teams” squared off in the Calder Cup Final to conclude a stretch of playoff hockey in which the level of competition gradually increased with each passing postseason series.

It was an experience that not only he, but BriseBois as well, believes will benefit him heading into this season.

“He proved he could play at a really high level last season, and there’s no doubt he’s very skilled and very competitive,” BriseBois said. “Now as a second-year pro, we’re more concerned at looking at consistency. That will be the key challenge for him, but what helps athletes like him achieve a high level of performance is not only proving he can play in the big situations, which he has, but also ambition.”

And as BriseBois quickly added, “he has that.”

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