BY MARK GIANNOTTO
Daily Sports Writer
Published January 17, 2006
On and off the ice, Crosby and Johnson did not appear to have much in common. Crosby is from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia and was boarding at Shattuck-St.Mary's during the school year. Johnson is an American, born in Indianapolis, who lived in the Fairbault, Minn. with his family at the time. Crosby is a dynamic forward who would rather avoid physical play so he can create in open spaces. Johnson is a defenseman who can put points on the board, but also serves as a physical presence in his own zone. In interviews, Crosby is very soft-spoken and chooses his words carefully. Johnson is straightforward and outspoken.
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But their different backgrounds only brought them closer together. Because of Shattuck-St. Mary's close proximity to the Johnson house, Crosby became a frequent visitor. The Johnsons welcomed him into their home because they knew that the adjustment to a new school was tough, and that Crosby's friendship meant a lot to their eldest son. The two teenagers created memories that are still vivid in the minds of the Johnsons.
"Sidney used to come over, and Mrs. Johnson made I don't know how many dozens of cookies for him," said Johnson's father, Jack Sr.. "But then all of a sudden, he would be on his hands and knees playing mini-stick hockey with our 7-year-old Kenny. And next thing you know, Sidney and Jack are on the floor playing each other in mini-stick hockey."
Ask Crosby about his memories from Shattuck, and he doesn't even mention hockey. His favorite moment with Jack occurred on the baseball diamond, not a sheet of ice.
"Jack was a pitcher for our high school team," Crosby said with a grin on his face in Chicago last week. "And in one game, the other team's pitcher threw a pitch that came real close to my head. Then the next pitch actually hit me. The next batter was Jack and when the kid threw another pitch that was really far inside, Jack charged the mound and started a huge brawl between both teams."
The budding superstars supported each other in any endeavor. The friendship that grew from shared talent on the ice had blossomed into a bond that could not be broken.
Friend or Foe
For Crosby and Johnson, their sophomore year at Shattuck would be their last year playing together on the same team. Each moved on to other teams and programs after their triumphant season.
Crosby went to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and played two seasons for Rimouski. During the 2003-04 campaign, he recorded 135 points (54 goals, 81 assists) in 59 games and led the league in scoring. He followed that with one of the greatest seasons by a junior hockey player in Canadian history. During the 2004-05 season, Crosby had 168 points (66 goals, 102 assists). Retired hockey legend and current Phoenix Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky is the only player to amass more points in one season during major junior league competition. Gretzky had 182 points during the 1977-78 campaign.
Meanwhile, Johnson went on to play for the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor. On a team with the best 17- and 18-year-old hockey players in the country, he led all defensemen in points and penalty minutes.
Even though Johnson and Crosby were apart on the ice, their off-the-ice friendship still survived. Different uniforms were not going to tarnish the special moments they had at Shattuck together.
"It's always fun when you go separate ways in hockey and in life to keep in touch with your friends," Crosby said. "(Jack) is obviously a guy that I have always stayed in touch with."
During the summer of that 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Crosby and Johnson trained together. Johnson went to Nova Scotia and lived with the Crosby family for a week. The two woke up early to work out before playing street hockey or swimming in the afternoon. But it wasn't all fun and games for the two. They were preparing for a draft in which they were both highly rated.
"We are both pretty competitive, so we go pretty hard against ourselves," Crosby said. "But we both try to make each other better. There were times where we'd be mad at each other one minute and then we're best friends the next minute."
When that fateful weekend came in July and both Crosby and Johnson were in Ottawa for the draft, they roomed together. Going into the weekend, Crosby was the clear-cut No. 1 pick. The Penguins had already made it known that Sidney was their guy. Jack's fate was less clear. The Anaheim Mighty Ducks possessed the No. 2 pick, but they had not decided whether they wanted to select a forward or a defenseman. Heading into the draft weekend, Jack was rated as the top defenseman available.