Mark Masters: Johnson’s Michigan mentality electrifies Edmonton


Team Canada practiced at the Downtown Community Arena in Edmonton on Sunday.

On the first day of Team Canada training camp, Kent Johnson casually scored a lacrosse goal during a practice session.

“I actually said to him on the first day: ‘Johnny, I can see better how you can do that in this tournament’ and he looked at me and said: ‘Yes, that’s the goal’,” reveals left winger Brennan Othmann.

When Johnson shot the puck behind the net late in the first period on Saturday, Othmann recalled that conversation.

“I looked over and said, ‘Okay, that’s it.’ And then he did it and I was like, ‘This guy is disgusting.'”

The “Michigan goal” is becoming more common in hockey, but to make the move on this stage — in a World Juniors tie on home ice — is special.

“It happened pretty quickly,” Johnson said. “I got a loose puck behind the net and there wasn’t a D-Man on the post so I just tried. There was a lot of space.”

“It was probably one of the most beautiful Michigans I’ve ever seen,” said Team Canada captain Mason McTavish. “He did it so quickly. It’s the last minute of the first period and the ice isn’t great then. It was special to see. I’ll definitely watch it again and again.”

Team Canada center Logan Stankoven put his hands on his head as he ran over to celebrate the magic mark.

“I was just shocked,” said the reigning Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year. “I was like, ‘Wow! One of my linemates just did the lacrosse move.’ It’s something you see in the SportsCentre top 10, not something you really see in real life.”

Johnson appeared to have been bitten by a snake at this year’s World Juniors before electrifying Edmonton on Saturday. Just before goal, Tomas Suchanek had absolutely robbed Johnson but the Czech keeper didn’t stand a chance as the University of Michigan product went to the Michigan move.

“I looked ahead but he’s not there and then I just turn around and he’s already scored on me,” Suchanek recalled. “It’s kind of difficult. It’s about the player. He has the skills.”

Many players have the ability, but not everyone has the confidence to try.

“I’ve been practicing this move since I was 14,” said Johnson, Columbus’ fifth overall pick in the 2021 NHL draft. “So now it’s just something that’s in the toolbox.”

The biggest challenge in implementation?

“I think it’s just the ability,” Johnson said, “but when you have the ability, you don’t really have to think about it and be afraid of failure.”

Team USA center Logan Cooley, who missed two attempts at lacrosse against Austria on Saturday, pointed to another potential pitfall.

“I’m just trying not to get killed,” Arizona’s third pick of the July draft said with a laugh. “You know, your head is down and you’re trying to pick it up as quickly as possible.”

“I don’t think I would ever try that,” said Team Canada center Ridly Greig with a smile. “At least not in the Western League.”

But for a guy like Johnson, it’s pretty much the same as ever.

“He does that all the time,” noted Greig, who played at Brandon last season. “He does it for a living.”

Regina Pats phenom Connor Bedard has attempted the move to the Western Hockey League and would definitely give the World Juniors a try.

“It’s so hard to actually find the opportunity,” remarked the 17-year-old. “But when it’s there, I think it’s a good game. I think people are doing it more and more. I’m not going to say, ‘I’ll get it,’ or anything, but if it’s there, maybe I’ll try.”

The goal was incredible, but Dave Cameron was more enthusiastic about how Johnson played overall.

“Johnny played his best game and that’s a good sign for us,” said the Team Canada coach.

What did Johnson, who had just one power-play assist in his first two games, do better on Saturday?

“Everything,” Cameron said tersely.

Johnson has run with Stankoven and Tyson Foerster every day since Canada opened camp on August 1, but it wasn’t until Saturday that the chemistry really clicked.

“They played faster,” Cameron said. “Come in more. Played better without the puck. They attacked the net a little more.”

The line had a meeting with a member of the coaching staff before the Czech Republic game to reset them. What has changed?

“Our support around the puck,” said Stankoven. “Playing games and finding each other somehow. In the first few games we didn’t have that success and didn’t create those chances.”

Foerster scored his first goal of the Junior World Championship in a 5-1 win.

“They took the pucks really well,” said McTavish. “They worked together and really bonded, and they all moved their feet a lot. You have so much skill on this line.”

“It was a really good move for us,” Johnson said. “The Forecheck game was really good for us and we just found each other in the O-Zone. It seemed like we really bonded on all those passes and were in the right sports for puck assist.”

The lacrosse goal was Johnson’s first even-strength goal in his fifth World Juniors game.

Cooley will get his next chance to pull off the lacrosse move Sunday night when the United States takes on Sweden in an undefeated battle.

“They’re a really capable team that can net the puck too, so we have to be ready on the defensive side of the puck,” Cooley said. “But I think our game is built for this game. We’re also very physical and they don’t like going into the dirty areas so I like our chances tonight.”

Cooley believes physical play will be an important factor for Team USA, and not just against Sweden.

“It’s all pretty even, except I think we’re a little bit more physical,” he said. “We’re ready to get in front of the net and put the puck on the net. With these other teams, they tend to stay on the outside and want light offense. We create our chances. We want tough offense and I think we play both sides of the puck.”

Cooley’s line with wingers Matthew Knies and Matthew Coronato appears to be gaining some traction after a quiet start to the tournament.

“That line could have had in the front three [period] if Coronato hadn’t hit the post there,” said Team USA coach Nate Leaman after Saturday’s win against Austria. “I love the way Knies and Coronato work. You work very hard. They get the right readings off the puck and then these three have good chemistry. They’ve been together since camp started.”

Cooley set up Coronato for a goal against Austria.

“We’d like to produce a little bit more,” Cooley said. “I still think we have really dominant O zone shifts, it’s just that the jumps aren’t happening for us right now so we’re looking forward to getting going tonight.”

Knies has just one assist in three games and admits the chemistry on the line is still in the works.

“It’s a little shaky right now,” said the Leafs prospect, “but I think it’s going to get there. I just need to understand Logan a little better. Obviously he loves slowing down the game so you get used to that with a little adjustment.”

What’s the key to playing with Cooley?

“Bring him the puck,” Knies said. “He’s making some incredible plays. The more times I get him the puck the better for our team. It was a little different but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I think we’ll have good chemistry the rest of the way.”

Cooley has decided to join Knies at the University of Minnesota this season.

“I kept banging on his ear,” Knies said of his lobbying work.

And Cooley certainly wouldn’t mind building chemistry with Knies in the NCAA this season.

“He rarely loses fights so it’s really easy to play with him,” he said.

Ronan Seeley is feeling more comfortable at the World Juniors this summer.

“A little more confidence,” said the Team Canada defender, who made his debut at the event in December. “I [feel] something more comfortable outside for sure. I realized that I wasn’t that nervous about the games and that was kind of a nice feeling. It’s definitely a change.”

Seeley’s steady play has helped steady a Canadian blue line missing Owen Power and Kaiden Guhle, who were the biggest minute-eaters in December.

“At Christmas you could tell he was younger and a lot more nervous when he was on the big stage,” said Team Canada assistant coach Dennis Williams, who also coaches Seeley in Everett. “He came back this summer and got really stronger. I hadn’t seen him for a few months since our season ended. Just a whole different level of confidence in him. His style of play was really easy. He moved the puck. He defends well and trust his feet and trust his gaps.”

Seeley is plus-seven, which is behind only Olen Zellweger (up-eight) and McTavish (up-nine) in Team Canada.

Team Canada lines at practice on Sunday:

Johnson – Stankoven – Forester
Roy Greig Dufour
kidney, Gaucher

Del Mastro-Cormier



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