An emphatic scream echoed throughout the mostly-empty Yost Ice Arena.
Kent Johnson had glided into the offensive zone, picked up a rebound that floated into the slot and fired a puck into the back of the net.
Before the goalie could even react, the freshman forward was already heading to the corner, cheering in jubilation with his hands in the air.
“It was just pure joy,” Johnson said. “It was just so much fun to play with the guys.”
Johnson’s first career goal capped off a memorable debut weekend for the winger. After totaling four assists in the season opener on Saturday — where Michigan blew out Arizona State 8-1 — Johnson’s goal set the tone early as the Wolverines captured their second win of the season, 3-0.
Michigan looked like the stronger, faster team all weekend, and Johnson was emblematic of that on Sunday. He was flying around the ice displaying flashy dangles, and was a constant scoring threat.
“Kent’s a hockey player, he's a rink rat,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “He enjoys being at the rink and works on his game a lot. He’s got very good hands and a high hockey IQ.”
The instant offensive explosion should come as no surprise. Johnson tallied 41 goals and 60 assists last year in the British Columbia Hockey League — the most in the league by a wide margin.
For most freshmen, the transition from juniors to the college level can be difficult. Even the most talented players can face some growing pains as they adjust to the physicality and speed of the college game. But Johnson already looks a step ahead of his competition. As a projected top ten pick in next year’s NHL draft, he’s starting to prove that the hype is real.
“Obviously everything happens faster, and I won't have as many scoring chances as I did last year,” Johnson said. “But I feel like I can just play my game, and it's really fun.”
Johnson was also expected to be a boost to the Wolverines’ power play unit, which was middle-of-the-pack last season. He didn’t record any power play points on the weekend, but featured prominently throughout Michigan’s six man-advantage opportunities.
Playing at left wing, Johnson spent most of the game on a line with another well-touted freshman: Matthew Beniers. The duo worked in lockstep and generated several scoring opportunities throughout the game. At one moment in the second period, Johnson corralled the puck behind the net and threw a behind the back pass to Beniers, who was sitting in front. Beniers’ shot was eventually blocked, but the play showed the potential those two have to be a special pairing all season.
“I think we’ve got some great chemistry,” Johnson said. “Definitely really nice to play with him.”
Added Pearson: “They complement each other well. You got some size, you got some skill, you have some speed. Everything you're looking for on a line.”
The Wolverines now turn their attention to Thursday’s matchup with Wisconsin. Johnson will hope to be a big part of the offense and find his way into the stat sheet again.
“He’s a fun player, fun to watch,” Pearson said. “Probably not fun to play against.”