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Hometown kid Johansen set to face Canucks

by Kevin Woodley
VANCOUVER -- Columbus rookie Ryan Johansen is right at home in Vancouver, but the 19-year-old will have a new vantage point Tuesday against the Canucks team he grew up cheering.

Johansen, who returned to his nearby hometown of Port Moody to watch his younger brother play hockey and eat with family on Monday night, was a spectator at Rogers Arena as recently as Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. Now the fourth pick in the 2010 NHL Draft will be counted on to slow down a Vancouver team finding its groove again.

"For a kid like that to be able to come home, he's pretty excited, he'll have lots of family in the building, and hopefully it's a big night," Columbus coach Scott Arniel said. "It took him a while to get the feel of the NHL and what it takes to play every night, but he's been dangerous. He's shown a lot of the skill for the size that he has, and an ability to score some big goals. It would be nice to see him get rewarded in front of the home crowd."

It hasn't necessarily been an easy transition for Johansen, who was scratched four times during a miserable October in Columbus. But shortly after shifting from center to right wing while Jeff Carter was out, Johansen scored the winning goal in the Blue Jackets' first three victories, and now has 5 goals, 10 points and a team-best plus-4 rating.

"There was a lot on his plate early on, especially playing center in the National Hockey League. As an 18-year-old, there was a lot to grasp," Arniel said after practice Monday. "The switch to right wing seemed to make him really comfortable and all of the sudden we started to see the offense and the big power forward we were hoping for."

Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, they will face a goaltender that also benefitted from some tough Arniel love early in his career. Canucks backup Cory Schneider, who will make his sixth-straight start Tuesday and is coming off NHL Second Star honors for his play last week, credits Arniel for giving him a "kick" during his rookie AHL season.

"I'd like to kick him right now," Arniel joked.

Ironically, Schneider faces Curtis Sanford, his playing partner when the Canucks' AHL affiliate went to the Calder Cup Finals in 2009. It's a scenario few would envisioned a few weeks ago, when Schneider was still the backup to Roberto Luongo, Sanford was hurt and the Blue Jackets' third-stringer, and Arniel was listening to regular speculation about his job being in jeopardy while Columbus struggled. Even if they didn’t see Tuesday's matchup coming, Arniel and Sanford both foresaw success for Schneider.

"Everybody envisioned he was going to be a good NHL goaltender," Arniel said. "He's a guy that’s very driven and very confident, a big goalie that's also very athletic."

Size isn't on Sanford's size, but that hasn't kept the 5-foot-10 goaltender from getting back to the NHL three seasons -- and several serious injuries -- after his last game with Vancouver. With a 3-1-2 record, 1.39 goals-against average and .947 save percentage during six-straight starts, the popular journeyman has made the most of this unexpected opportunity, sparking a Columbus turnaround.
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