When it came time for Nick Johnson to go to college, he had an obvious choice – Dartmouth.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2004 third-round pick (67th overall) has a rich family history at the college. Johnson is the sixth generation attendee. His parents, uncle, grandfather and two great uncles were all Dartmouth graduates. Nick’s mother, Annie, was on Dartmouth’s alpine ski team, while his father, Kevin, played hockey for the Big Green and was the team’s leading scorer in 1977.
“It’s kind of neat. My dad and uncle were the first Canadians to come down here,” Johnson said. “On my mom’s side, there were a bunch of generations before her. It’s neat having people come up to me telling me they went to school with my relatives. They [tell me] what they were like. It’s pretty cool.”
However, the Calgary native wasn’t forced to attend Dartmouth. It was his choice.
“My dad was really open about any school selection. Dartmouth seemed the most interested in me,” he said. “There are great facilities here. Everything looked top-notch. It’s a great school, too. I couldn’t go wrong.”
The sophomore hockey player is doing much more than continuing the family tradition. Johnson, a 6-foot-2, 197-pound winger, is the Big Green’s fifth-leading scorer with 25 points. He ranks second on the team with 15 goals and has 10 assists. In addition, his six power-play goals are tops on the team, which finished 19-12-2.
“I think the whole team started slow, but we are definitely coming on strong,” he said. “I just want to have a productive end of the season. I am not too worried about point totals or goal totals. I am doing better now, my line is doing better team better and that’s all I can hope for.”
Johnson enjoyed a stellar freshman season last year. He registered 35 points (18+17) in 35 games. He was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year and chosen for the ECACHL’s all-rookie team. In addition, he was given Dartmouth’s Booma Award, which is presented to the team’s top rookie.
“Playing in the Ivy League is a little different from what I was used to in juniors so I had to adjust. It was good to get rewarded,” he said. “It was an adjustment last year and it took me a while to get going this year.
“I worked pretty hard in the summer and thought I was in good shape,” he continued. “Since I had some success last year, there was a lot more pressure on me as a sophomore. I am counted on now. Last year, it was a bonus scoring or creating chances. Now, it’s expected of me. It’s definitely a bit of an adjustment. I have been able to start dealing with that pressure more effectively. I think the best part is still to come.”
Of course, Johnson can’t focus all his attention on hockey. Dartmouth, like every other Ivy League school, features a demanding academic workload, too.
“It’s pretty tough. Classes can really pile up the work on you,” he said. “You just have to keep up with it and do work. You can’t take a night off completely. I have been trying to do that, but I can’t. As a sophomore, maybe my classes are not really harder, but they are more serious. I am learning to manage that with practices and games. It’s definitely another adjustment.”
On the ice, Johnson uses his size and quick hands to assert himself around the crease and bury pucks.
“I am more of a power forward. I am kind of a rush-type player,” he said. “I get around the net. It seems like situations in front of the net, I am good at being patient with the puck. I am more of an offensive zone player. I excel at quick plays around the net.”
Johnson models his play after Calgary Flames forward Jarome Iginla.
“He is my favorite player. He is such a good shooter,” Johnson said. “I just watch him and try to take a few things from his game. He’s the more-recent player I have watched and tried to idolize.”
Johnson is thrilled to be part of a Penguins organization that has many talented young players.
“I am a pretty big hockey fan and I have been following the Penguins. They have a few really good prospects. It’s an exciting time for the organization,” he said. “I definitely try to watch their games when they’re on TV.”
Also, Johnson is encouraged to see the young players in the organization get a chance to prove themselves through hard work.
“Definitely. Being in an organization that is so good at developing young prospects and getting them to play at highest level is great. It’s probably the reason why I am happy to be with the Penguins and feel fortunate that they drafted me.”