Aggressive, competitive and determined. It couldn't be any more appropriate that a ferocious hurricane by the name of Jack Johnson was snapped up by Carolina in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
Johnson, a product of the US National Development Program, has long been praised for his hard-nosed approach to the game and will soon be given the opportunity to prove his attributes in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Described by scouts as a dominant two-way force on the blueline, he was truly a man amongst boys playing for the US Under-18 National Development Program. Much is credited to his gritty, intense style of play which is described best - he says - by a close friend.
"Sidney (Crosby) says the eyes just roll back in my head, I don't know," Johnson jokingly points out his pal's assessment on the source of his spirited style of play. "I would never do anything like that in ordinary life. But it's a sport mentality. My father taught me to play tough to survive in hockey and that's what I have to do."
Johnson's father, Jack Sr., was drafted in the ninth round of the 1973 NHL Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. Coincidentally, Crosby's father Troy was also drafted, in his case by the Montreal Canadiens in the 12th round of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. This is just one of the bonds the boys shared after meeting while attending St. Mary's-Shattuck prep school three seasons ago. Johnson says they even orient their goals to feed off one another - citing specifically their intention to go consecutively in the NHL Draft which just passed.
"We push each other a lot, and he's helped me get to the opportunity," he said of Crosby's influence. "(The promise to go one-two) was something that was very serious when we decided we wanted to go behind each other. It was serious and it helped drive both of us - especially me since I had more ground to cover."
The feat seemed improbable at the time they made the pact last summer, but they came within one draft position of accomplishing their goal, with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim opting for forward Bobby Ryan. Johnson's tenacity and goal-oriented character distinguished him from other defensemen available. And while he credits Crosby for pushing him, the feeling is mutual between the two, like the time Johnson came to Crosby's protection at Shattuck.
"That's a long story but I'll tell it to you," Johnson elaborates. "Sidney and I were in the same history class and our teacher was the (junior varsity) ball coach. He hated this team and its pitcher so he recruited me to play one game. So I played one game to shut this team up for an extra credit in the class."
"I came to bat and I was thinking: how am I going to run the pitcher? So I said I would have to get hit by a pitch. I stood on the plate and looked at Sidney who knew I was going to charge the mound. So I got hit. Sidney was the best ball player on the team and the pitcher wouldn't stop chirping at him."
The University of Michigan is ecstatic to have Johnson's commitment to bring his fiery character to the program for the 2005/06 season. While he knows the possibility is there to play in the NHL within months, he sees the bigger picture.
"I'll take a look at all my options, but right now the plan is to play at Michigan in the fall," he said.
With the praise Johnson is receiving across the hockey world, one would have to call him a lock for the NHL next season. Jack Skille, a teammate of Johnson for the past two seasons in the US National Development Program and the seventh overall pick in the draft, is in awe of his potential.
"When I'm on the bench, it's amazing to see him go out there and just crush guys," Skille marveled. "He's just a man among boys out there - it's scary. I'm going to have a rough time playing against him next year, but it's going to be fun. He's great. His stick-handling skills; he fakes one way and goes the other; the spin move; those are all the little things he does that are just amazing. They're things I probably wouldn't be able to do and it's just fun to watch."
Johnson, awfully gentlemanly despite the occasional bad-boy antics, responds in kind to Skille's comments.
"He (Skille) is also an amazing player to watch. The way he overpowers people, leans on the wall and bumps them every time," he said. "He cuts in (on other players) and lets go a great shot. He has one of the best snap shots. Skille's a player you (would rather) play with than against."
JACK OF ALL TRADES
Scouts describe Johnson as having a complete approach to hockey, an all-around talent with all-star potential.
"I want to be valuable both ways," Johnson says. "I want to stay in the grey area and play like a Chris Pronger or Scott Stevens in the defensive zone. Then when I cross the red line and I turn into an Alexei Kovalev or Scott Niedermayer."
But can he already withstand the physical trials and tribulations of professional hockey?
"I learned playing against guys who were older, and I had to play that way if I didn't want to be killed."
Some day, somewhere an old timer will tell tales of hurling for Shattuck and surviving the Jack Bull.