The Michigan Daily - Faceoff 2005 - Thursday, October 6, 2005 - 8B
You don't know Jack
Freshman sensation Jack Johnson realizes his dream of wearing the winged helmet
By James V. Dowd " Daily Sports Writer
Some 10 years ago, a young Jack Johnson
excitedly wore his No. 6 Harold Schock
Michigan jersey to collect autographs
-at Michigan's annual Blue and White Scrim-
mage. On Saturday, that same jersey was out
on the ice, but this time Johnson was a fresh-
man defenseman signing the autographs while
his 7-year-old brother Kenny collected them.
Perhaps the collection of signatures was
an early sign of Johnson's love for Michigan
hockey. The jersey has dozens
of autographs from the likes
of Schock, Mike Legg and
'Jason Botterill - John- a
son's heroes growing up.
Saturday night was }
Johnson's dream come
true - he had been waiting
for his debut in
Maize and Blue since his parents started
bringing him to Yost Ice Arena and Michigan
Stadium as a toddler.
"I can't believe it's finally happening," John-
son said. "I've been waiting a long time for this,
and everyone has made me feel right at home."
Money can't buy his love
Despite his deep-seated love for Michigan
sports, Johnson has faced an immense amount
of pressure to give up his life-long dream of
playing at Yost. Johnson was the third overall
pick in this year's NHL Entry Draft, guaran-
teeing him a lucrative offer from the Caro-
lina Hurricanes. But despite the fame and
money that a pro-hockey contract would
bring, he opted to stay in Ann Arbor to
experience the Michigan tradition.
"Jack is an old-fashioned traditionalist,"
Johnson's father, also Jack, said. "He believes in
the Yankee pinstripes, the Old English D. Jack
will take Yost over any arena in America.
When it comes to the Maize and Blue
and 'The Victors' - that's Jack."
Johnson's parents attribute this
choice not only to Johnson's
strong allegiance to Michigan,
but also to the fact that their
family has always been a big
~T proponent of the collegiate expe-
- rience. His father won a national
championship playing defense for
the 1973 Wisconsin Badgers and
Salsoplayed at Michigan State.
His mother graduated from the
Michigan, and her father, Ken
Manuel, played football, basket-
ball and baseball for Michigan in
So when it came to the choice
between college hockey and major
junior hockey, it was an easy decision
for Johnson and his family. But once
the NHL started knocking, Michigan fans
began to worry about whether Johnson
would still make it to Ann Arbor.
After the Pittsburgh Penguins
drafted Sidney Crosby and the
Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
took Bobby Ryan, the
to select Johnson
with the third pick. General Manager Jim
Rutherford said he believes Johnson is the
perfect fit for their organization.
"Jack is a high-skill defenseman that can
really play in all aspects of the game," Ruth-
erford said. "From the Hurricanes' point-
of-view he's an ideal fit. We needed some
younger players to balance out the guys we
have right now."
But even on draft day, Johnson donned a
blue and yellow tie. There was never any doubt
in his mind that coming to Michigan was the
right thing for him.-
"My plan right now is that I'm playing at the
University of Michigan and I don't have any other
plans," Johnson said. "Honestly, I didn't say a
word to them at all after the draft. They've been
talking to my parents and other people, but they
knew I was planning to come here all along."
For the time being, Rutherford says the
organization hopes that he will continue to
develop under Michigan coach Red Berenson's
"We don't have a timeline," Rutherford said.
"We can't predict his development, but we
will follow along with his play at Michigan.
As time goes along, we can make a decision
about his future."
Rutherford said the Hurricanes will continually
monitor his development in Ann Arbor and they
hope to see him play 10 to 12 times this season.
Johnson is pleased that the Hurricanes have been
so patient with his decision to play at Michigan.
"It's great for me and says a lot about the
Carolina Hurricanes," Johnson said. "I will
make my decision and do what's best for me.
And I think the best thing for me is to be here
at Michigan, and it's great that they under-
The Road to Yost
Michigan fans are used to seeing their star
players drafted by NHL teams, but Johnson
was the highest draft pick in Michigan history
before he even played a collegiate game.
Prior to his arrival at Michigan, Johnson
developed quite a name for himself while
playing with some elite company in the United
States National Team Development Program
and at Shattuck-St. Mary's Prep School in
Johnson led the USNTDP under-18 team's
defensemen in scoring last year, notching 43
points (14 goals and 29 assists) while play-
ing 48 games against top-notch competition,
including college teams
such as Michigan. The
great coaching and elite
teammates that Johnson
worked with in the program
helped him further develop.
But according to Michigan's
junior defenseman Matt Hunwick
- a USNTDP alumnus himself - it is facing
college teams week in and week out that is the
most beneficial experience.
"Jack got to play against like 20 college
teams last year, so he got a jump on most of
the guys who have just played junior hockey,"
Hunwick said. "The pace of college hockey
is quicker and the guys are bigger, faster and
Before joining the
National Team Devel-
opment Program, John-
son played for Shattuck-St.
Mary's varsity team in 2002-03 when he
was one of just two sophomores to make the
squad. The other was Crosby - this year's
No. 1 NHL Draft pick.
Johnson and Crosby became close friends
that year, and Johnson believes that they are
both better hockey players for having skated
with each other.
"Playing with guys like Sid, you tend to pick
up little things that help your game," Johnson
said. "I'm sure we picked up things from each
other. It's a lot of fun to play with a guy like
that. It made hockey easy."
Johnson and Crosby's team went on to win
the national championship that year, and the
pair began to earn even more notice in the North
American hockey scene. It was during the fall
of 2002 that Johnson committed to Michigan.
Even at 15 years old, Johnson never doubted-
that Michigan was the right place for him.
"I didn't think twice about it," Johnson. "I don't
think I could have gotten a better offer anywhere
else. This was just where I wanted to be."
Johnson is relieved that he got his first collegiate
games in during last weekend's scrimmage and
exhibition. During those games he was excited and
nervous about putting on the jersey and winged
helmet that he had been dreaming of for so long,
but in this weekend's regular season opener against
Quinnipiac, he is just ready to play.
"I can't wait to get going this weekend,"
Johnson said. "I probably won't have as many
jitters on my first few shifts because I know
what to expect. I'm looking forward to soak-
ing in the atmosphere and intensity of a whole
Michigan crowd here at Yost."
After his performance in last weekend's
exhibition game against Toronto, Johnson cer-
tainly looks ready to compete. He fired eight
shots during Sunday's exhibition game, includ-
ing a rocket from just inside the blue line that
beat Toronto goaltender Ryan Grinnell before
ricocheting off the cross bar. Johnson played on
Michigan's powerplay and penalty-kill units,
and registered a plus-1 rating for the game.
During the exhibition game and throughout his
first few weeks at Michigan, Johnson has been
paired with Hunwick on defense - likely one
of the most feared defensive partnerships in the
CCHA. Hunwick has been impressed with John-
son's quick transition, both on and off the ice.
"People have read pretty much everything
about him, and it's all :true," Hunwick said.
"He can carry the puck, he can jump in the
play. He's tough, mean. Everything you want
in a defenseman, he's got it.
"As far as a person, he's a great guy. What can
you say about the guy - he's a good, whole-
some person with a passion for the game."
Johnson is also happy to be playing with Hun-
wick, a player who he looked up to before join-
ing the Wolverines. He said that Hunwick has
taught him a great deal about the game, as well
as helping with the transition to college life.
"I'd love to be paired with (Hunwick),"
Johnson said. "In my opinion, he's probably
the best defenseman in college hockey. It'd be
a privilege to play with him, and he has made
life a lot of fun for me."
A Bright Future
Now that Johnson has earned the wings on his
helmet and his draft pick, the time has come for
him to prove himself in regular season college
games. Berenson is cautiously optimistic about
Johnson's prospects for this season.
"Sometimes it's hard for a kid to live up to
the hype that surrounds him," Berenson said.
"Jack Johnson should be an anchor of our
defense. It may not happen in the first week,
but he's a good kid and he works hard. It's just
going to take some time for him to fit in."
With Berenson's history of producing NHL
talent, Johnson should prosper under his guid-
ance. Though he can't predict how the fresh-
man class will gel in games this year, Berenson
knows the team has a bright future as Johnson
and his 10 classmates mature.
. "If you look back at who you were two years ago
and who you are now, there's probably a big differ-
ence," Berenson said. "Differences in certain parts
of your mentality, your physical skill set, your con-
fidence. In hockey, it's the same. If Jack has things
that jump out as hurting him, we'll deal with them.
For now, like with any young defenseman, he has
to worry about making mistakes."
PHOTO BY ALEXANDER DZIADOSZ