by Brian Bileski
March 10, 2006(TORONTO) --
It's March and the college hockey regular season is finally over. You know what that means don't you? It means the road to the Frozen Four has been iced and prepped for the top teams in the nation to skate down on their way to a national title.
All year long the CCHA has boasted some of the most competitive teams in the nation. Miami of Ohio, Michigan State, Northern Michigan and the University of Michigan are all considered contenders for the NCAA championship.
|Jack Johnson was drafted second overall in last June's draft. |
First they'll duke it out at the Joe Louis Arena to find out who the best of their league is over the next couple weeks. Realistically any one of the four teams could skate their way to the title game as all are deeply talented.
The Michigan Wolverines are a unique team as they're packed with outstanding freshmen players who have stepped up their game in the absence of veteran leadership. Without Al Montoya, Eric Nystrom and Jeff Tambellini very few critics thought they would be able to compete. Yet you can never count out coach Red Berenson's program as he refuses to allow his Wolverines to lose.
One reason they've faired so well this season is because of the play of freshman defenceman and future NHLer Jack Johnson. I had a chance to talk with Jack the other day and here's what he had to say:Brian:
After getting drafted second overall by the Carolina Hurricanes this summer did you have a tough time deciding to go pro verses heading to Michigan?
Jack: It wasn't tough. I think it was the right decision to hold off going right away. I've always wanted to go Michigan and live through the college experience. I'll be able to go to the NHL when I'm ready to go.
Brian: At the World Junior Championships the Vancouver crowd gave you a tough go as they booed and whistled at you. I think it's a sign of their respect for you but how did it make you feel?
Jack: I think they did it because I was one of the bigger names there. I didn't mind it all, actually it helped me play better.
Brian: Speaking of the World Junior's you had a look at some of the top young players in the world. Who was the best player you faced?
Jack: I definitely think (Evgeni) Malkin. He's got the whole package. He's big and strong and there are no other forwards that are as big and skilled as he is out there. Malkin's going to be a top player in the NHL.
Brian: Your teammate and Toronto native Andrew Cogliano isn't so bad either. What is it like playing with him?
Jack: It's great playing with him he makes life easy for me. Andrew jumps into the play and has great vision of the ice. He's a great playmaker and anytime we're on the ice together anything can happen.
Brian: Seeing as the CCHA tournament is just around the corner which teams are you most nervous facing?
Jack: All the teams will give us handful of trouble. One team I can see being tough to beat is Michigan State. It's a huge rivalry between our schools. I'm not too worried about any team I just think we need to focus on winning our games this weekend just so our hockey year doesn't end.
Brian: Saskatchewan native and 1972 Team Canada member Red Berenson has quite a reputation for developing young players, how has he been for you this year?
Jack: It's been awesome playing for him. I've got a lot better since the start of the season and I owe a lot of that to the coaching staff. It's quite an honour playing for him and for the Michigan Wolverines.
Brian: I bet people are all over you about whether you plan on staying at Michigan or heading to the NHL this year. Does it annoy you to have to constantly answer this question?
Jack: People are wondering what I'm going to do at the end of the year. I just want to take it slowly and not make any decision yet. Right now I am not focusing on what I'm planning to do just yet. I just want to make sure the season doesn't end this weekend for me. When the time comes I'll make a decision but alot of people want to know now. I understand them but I'm not ready to make a decision.
Brian: Whether you do or you don't leave any time soon you must be looking forward to playing for a real winner like Carolina?
Jack: Definitely. I want to be a part of a winning organization. I only want to play for winning teams, that's just how I am. I think it's awesome that their doing so well and I hope they continue to win.
Brian: I know Michigan hockey sets the highest goals every season and winning is the only option. Can you guys win the CCHA title, maybe even the NCAA Frozen Four?
Jack: It would be the ideal season to do that. It's something that is pretty much expected for us to win the CCHA title and then to contend in the tourney. Everybody on campus wonders what's wrong with us for finishing third in the league. You have to remember there are 11 freshmen on this team and still we've done well. We have plenty of expectations from everybody for us to do well
Brian: Well Jack best of luck in the tournament and something tells me you're going to have a long prosperous career in the NHL too.