Just wrapped up the story on Justin Johnson's remarkable ascension to the NHL with his debut tonight for the New York Islanders, and have a few leftovers.
Speaking with JJ by cellphone a bit ago -- he was calling from Buffalo after the Islanders flew there following a 3-2 shootout win at New Jersey because the Isles have their season finale there Sunday -- he couldn't have sounded happier.
"It was so, so fun,'' he said. "It was awesome.''
JJ skated 11 shifts for 7:15 of ice time, with three hits and an even rating.
He said he talked to Louis Mass, his trainer, friend and former coach -- Mass is assistant coach of the Alaska Aces and owns a training facility -- and asked for advice. Mass told him about once talking with veteran center Scott Gomez about his NHL debut and asking Gomez if he was nervous.
"He said Scott said, 'I can't wait to get out there and show people how good I am,' '' Johnson recounted. Knowing Scotty, he was being a bit of a smart-ass, but there's probably some truth in his confidence. After all -- gonna name-drop here, yo -- Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens once told The Blog that he was astounded five minutes before Gomez's NHL debut to find the kid lying, in full gear, on a couch and reading a newspaper.
Anyhow, JJ said he found Mass' story good advice, and determined, 'I can't wait to get out there and show people I belong.''
JJ recalled that when he played junior varsity at East High, he and teammate Corbin Schmidt would switch out of their gear and get dressed in a heartbeat after games so they could find a seat in the stands for the varsity game Gomez would play for East.
He recalled idolizing Gomez and former East High and Aces winger Mike Lee. He recalled knocking on Steve MacSwain's door to once ask the former East High star for a stick. MacSwain wore No. 49 in honor of his home state, and that's why JJ wears No. 49.
JJ said in the last few previous seasons, when he played for AHL Manchester, Gomez would get him tickets to Madison Square Garden when Gomez played for the Canadiens and they were visiting the Rangers. Tampa Bay Lightning center Nate Thompson of Anchorage would get him tickets when they were in town.
"I'd go to those games and watch Nate, hair flowing in warm-ups, and think, 'What I wouldn't give to be doing that, living the dream.' ''
Well, JJ, reached his dream, at 32 no less. Even he had to laugh at the beauty of it all -- eight pro seasons, after having a tough time cracking the ECHL, much less getting to the AHL, and he was in The Show.
"I was vibrating all day, honestly,'' he said.
By DOYLE WOODY, adn.com