Jack Johnson was the Canadian fans’ public enemy No. 1 during last year’s IIHF World Junior Championship tournament in British Columbia. He drew their wrath with a late hit after a Canadian game-winning goal.
At least Johnson had fellow Wolverines Kevin Porter and Mark Mitera with him for support when the hounding got serious.
While he doesn’t know if he’ll draw as much ire from the home Swedish fans, Johnson will be the only Wolverine on the U.S. squad during this year’s tournament, which runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.
Though he’ll be the lone Michigan representative sporting red, white and blue, Johnson is looking forward to the opportunity to play against the world’s best.
“I’m definitely excited,” Johnson said. “I think we’ve a good shot at it this year.”
He will count on his experience to take a bigger leadership role on this year’s team.
The Ann Arbor native is one of just eight players returning for last year’s squad.
While he is not necessarily a vocal leader, Johnson sets his best example with his effort on the ice.
“Part of leadership is what you do,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “If you want to measure Jack on what he does, that’s a big part of leadership, and he does that. So obviously players look up to him and they respect his passion for the game and how hard he works and how hard he competes every day in practice.”
Berenson also points to Johnson’s improved discipline regarding penalties as a sign of the defenseman’s increasing maturity and leadership capabilities.
Porter knows what a difference a year can make.
There’s the obvious advantage of experience, but it’s also important to take a leading role in the locker room, Porter said.
The Northville native knows what it takes to be a leader, having been named captain of the U.S. team last year.
“It’s tough, because you’re going into a team where you don’t know many guys,” Porter said. “Jack could be one of the leaders and should be one of the leaders this year. It’s just a tough situation and guys who can do it are born leaders.”
For his part, Johnson isn’t going to force himself into a leadership role on this year’s squad.
“I’d like to think of myself as trying to be a leader on that team,” Johnson said. “But I think I’m just going to go in and be myself, play the way I know I can play, and hopefully everything will turn out for the best.”
Johnson not only stands to benefit from last year’s tournament, but also from his experience playing overseas as a member of the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 squad.
While he’s excited for the tournament, Johnson admitted he’s disappointed his good friend Mitera won’t be playing with him this holiday season.
“It’s going to be tough out there without Mark, because he’s been a guy I’ve had with me for the past four years,” Johnson said.
Along with Johnson, sophomore Andrew Cogliano will attend the Canadian junior team’s training camp in the hopes of making the tournament roster.
If Cogliano makes the roster, the two Wolverines competing in the tournament mark the smallest Michigan contingent since 2000, when Andy Hilbert and Jeff Jillson skated for the U.S.
Notes: Johnson said he was progressing well with rehab of a shoulder injury suffered in last Saturday’s 6-5 win at Western Michigan. The sophomore said the injury was the result of a shoulder-to-shoulder hit with a Western Michigan player. Berenson refused to speculate about Johnson’s availability for this weekend’s series against Notre Dame.