BY MARK GIANNOTTO
Daily Sports Writer
Published January 17, 2006
The date was July 30, 2005.
More like this
The setting was the Westin Hotel in Ottawa, Ontario.
The event was the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
Like any sports draft, there were prognosticators projecting which player each team would select. And there were the naysayers who questioned the selections made by certain teams. But it's the uncertainty surrounding the future of an 18-year-old kid that makes a draft so interesting. No one is sure who will become the next great hockey star. People were even questioning whether the league would rebound from the one-year hiatus caused by the labor lockout.
But amidst all of the doubt, there were two friends who ignored all the hype and stuck together in their quest for hockey success.
Two of a Kind
Michigan freshman Jack Johnson and Pittsburgh Penguins rookie Sidney Crosby first met in the fall of 2002, when they began their sophomore year at Shattuck-St. Mary's School, a small private school in Fairbault, Minnesota.
The two aspiring hockey players were the lone underclassmen to make the Shattuck prep team. Johnson had starred on Shattuck's bantam team the previous year, collecting 35 goals and 65 assists en route to a 100-point season. Crosby came in as a player with a reputation well beyond his years. Many scouts were already anointing him the next great hockey star.
As the youngest and most talented players on the team, Johnson and Crosby quickly bonded on the ice and catapulted the team to new levels of success. The dominance of the two 16-year-olds attracted national attention to their team and a small Minnesota town.
"Sidney was so dynamic," said Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers. "I've never seen a sophomore forward like Crosby - ever. And Jack as a sophomore defenseman in high school, I've never seen anyone like him either. Even at that time, they were exceptional. I think people went to Shattuck to watch those two play. The attraction was that you got to see two of the next potential (NHL) superstars."
Both were able to ignore the extraordinary amount of attention and lead Shattuck to the 2003 USA Hockey Tier I Midget National Championship. Crosby ended the season with an unbelievable 162 points (72 goals, 90 assists), and Johnson ended the season with 42 points (15 goals, 27 assists), establishing himself as one of the most feared defenders in prep hockey.
The increased notoriety had no effect on the chemistry of the two sophomore superstars. Instead, their success only made them that much closer. The bond they created transferred onto the ice and became apparent to anyone watching their games.
"We had a chance to go see them at a tournament in Marquette because we were playing Northern Michigan at the time," said Michigan assistant coach Mel Pearson. "You could tell by the way they interacted with each other and their mannerisms on the ice that they were not only special players but good friends.
"On the ice at that tournament, the local team had assigned two kids to shadow Sidney and take Sidney off his game. He played through it and you could tell he was one of the best players. And that's how you could tell Jack was one of his buddies, because every time there was a skirmish, Jack was right there to make sure he was helping Sidney out."
Michigan fans have become accustomed to such actions by the freshman defenseman. Johnson has amassed 91 penalty minutes in just 21 games this season, and has served notice that nobody will get away with pushing around the Wolverines' freshmen-laden squad. Johnson's days as an enforcer on the ice began during his season playing with Crosby.
"Prior to (the 2002-2003 season) I was one of the smaller guys on the team," Johnson said. "I couldn't really check the other guys, because they were usually bigger than I was. He was the first time I kept an eye on someone, and because we were such close friends I didn't want anyone to give him a cheap shot or anything. I enjoyed doing it."
Crosby and Johnson competed against each other in practice everyday. Going against a player of similar talent helped to improve each player's skills. Michigan junior goalie Mike Mayhew, who was a senior on that 2002-03 Shattuck team, saw Jack and Sidney go at it all the time.
"Sidney saw how tough Jack plays and that forced Sidney to realize that he was going to be playing against players who are that tough at the next level," Mayhew said. "And I think Jack realized that he is going to be playing against guys as skilled as Sidney and as strong as Sidney."
Dozen's of Mom's Cookies