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Johnson makes himself at home

by Marcie Garcia

Al MacInnis, and his family, have welcomed Erik Johnson into their St. Louis home in an effort to help ease the rookie into the oftentimes overwhelming new lifestyle of the NHL.
As Al MacInnis was being inducted into the Hockey Hall of fame Monday night, 19-year-old St. Louis Blues rookie defenseman Erik Johnson was on, not only to see what a Blues legend accomplished, but to also see what his landlord had to say in his acceptance speech.

“He deserves it and I’m really happy for him,” Johnson says of his mentor’s Hall of Fame Induction. “I’d take that career in a heartbeat. He’s a Hall of Famer and one of the best defensemen to play the game, so yeah, I’d take that career in a second.”

While one playing career has run its course in an exemplary manor, another is just beginning. Lucky for Johnson, he has special insight on what it takes to succeed since he’s living in MacInnis’ basement.

MacInnis, wife Jackie, and children Riley, Lauren, Carson and Ryan, have welcomed Johnson into their St. Louis home in an effort to help ease the rookie into the oftentimes overwhelming new lifestyle of the NHL. They hope to bring a sense of normalcy and family comforts to Johnson, whose own family -- parents Bruce and Peggy and sister Christina -- live in Bloomington, Minn.

“I’ve been having a great time and adjusting to being a new big brother to the kids,” Johnson said. “He (MacInnis) is a really down-to-earth guy and so are his kids, so it’s been really easy living there and it’s been helpful with the whole transition.”

Johnson, who is an older brother to 17-year-old Christina, has enjoyed spending time with the MacInnis children, often volunteering to take and pick up the kids from school.

“They’re a lot of fun to be around and kind of make it looser around the house,” Johnson said. “I’ve had some fun with them. But at the same time, the whole family’s been really respectful of my space.”

Johnson’s much anticipated NHL career has put him in the spotlight this season after having been selected No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 Entry Draft. He’s just embarked on his professional career after playing one year for the University of Minnesota. Though Johnson has no regrets about his decision to postpone the scholastic course, he is learning a brand new game in terms of skill and competitive play.

He even has had his first injury -- a hairline fracture in his right foot that sidelined him for 10 games. The fracture was the result of a blocked shot in the season opener on Oct. 4 at Phoenix.

While Johnson stayed off his feet, MacInnis, who was famous for blocking shots in addition to his fearsome slap shot, was able to keep things light. After all, MacInnis had his share of work-related injuries throughout his 23 seasons on the ice.

“He (MacInnis) was really upbeat about it (the injury), and just helped me get back in the swing of things,” Johnson says. “Injuries happen and it’s good that it happened earlier than later.”

And don’t think Johnson isn’t taking some notes from the shot-blocking master himself.

“If I have any questions I can just ask him,” Johnson said. “He’s a pretty open guy and he’ll just come talk to you. He’s been helpful with anything I’ve asked, from playing hockey to living in a different state. He’s been a really open guy to talk to about anything. He’s been awesome.”

"He's a great kid and great around the house,” MacInnis said. “He adjusted well and half the time, I don't even know he's there. He's been very respectful to my wife and gets along with my kids, who have had him playing the odd shinny game."

The Blues are obviously hoping MacInnis can impart some his veteran knowledge to the young rookie, like he did when Barret Jackman won the 2003 Calder Memorial Trophy.

"I'm getting way too much credit for that," MacInnis insisted. "Barret is a throwback. From day one, he was mentally and physically tough enough to play in the NHL. I had a lot of guys help me throughout my career and I know how I looked up to them. Barret was a fine young man who came in here and played solidly. Mistakes didn't linger and you can't question his heart.

"I tried to make him not worry about mistakes because no one can play to their potential if they think they'll end up on the pine if they make a mistake. You have to play with passion and confidence."

Johnson, who is expected to one day quarterback the Blues’ power play, has a great shot from the point and skates well for a man with a 6-foot-4 frame. He scored his first NHL goal on Oct. 6 – a game-winner – against Los Angeles. At the 2007 World Junior Championships, Johnson helped win the bronze medal for Team USA and was named the tournament’s best defenseman, finishing with four goals, and six assists in seven games. He was the first defenseman to lead the WJC in scoring and only the second American-born player to earn the distinction.


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