Former Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson has been a part of some big-time hockey markets. Playing in major cities like Washington D.C and St. Louis, spending his junior days in Canada and being a native of Detroit, the longtime net minder is as good a judge as any when it comes to the passion a city has for his beloved game. Although he has only been in the Steel City since 2009, it’s not hard to tell where it stands in his echelon of hockey-crazed towns.
“Being from Detroit, which is dubbed ‘Hockey Town’, I think that Pittsburgh is right there, if not better. We all have Mr. Lemieux to thank for that. You can see it every night when you head downtown. The atmosphere is absolutely electric,” said Johnson.
Johnson was quick to point out the necessity of a successful professional franchise in order for the trickle-down effect to take place in youth sports.
“I think (Pittsburgh) is comparable to a place like D.C. What I saw there was youth hockey growing immensely in the five or six years that I have lived there. And I think that had to do with the Capitals being successful and being the main sports attraction in the city. When you have a successful sports franchise, you often see youth sports grow in that particular field.”
“As for youth hockey in Pittsburgh, the camps that I have worked around town have been great. I think the sky is the limit here,” added Johnson.
One camp Johnson recently worked was the Pittsburgh Penguins Goalie Camp at the Warrendale Bladerunners. Along with Penguins Manager of Youth Hockey Programs Mike Chiasson, Johnson was a head instructor at the camp that featured around 25-30 kids.
While his presence alone boosted the intensity of the camp, Johnson never hesitated to offer his expert advice. When he wasn’t teaching, he was keeping the group light, much like he did for his impressive thirteen-year NHL career in which he endeared himself to teammates and fans. One instance included Johnson keeping his end of the bargain on a wager that resulted in him executing ten push-ups on the spot for not scoring on one of the campers; another in which he quipped about the lack of feeling in his toes from how cold the building was. The camp ended with Johnson signing autographs and taking pictures with all the campers and their families.
Although he may be remembered in Pittsburgh most for his Led Zeppelin-themed mask or a memorable fight with an opposing goalie that brought 18,087 fans to their feet, Johnson’s current hockey gig in Pittsburgh consists making an impact in the cold “barns” of Western PA by helping young goaltenders become better at the sport they love.
Hopefully he remembers an extra pair of socks.