EDMONTON—In any hockey game, there are moments of pure joy.
They’re usually the result of pure skill clicking at just the right moment.
And Kent Johnson’s unbelievably wide grin — as big as his blue mouthpiece — after scoring in the first period to help Canada beat the Czechs 5-1 at the world junior hockey championship on Saturday night was a signal that just such a moment had occurred.
The Columbus Blue Jackets prospect plays for the University of Michigan, and he used The Michigan — that fan-friendly, lacrosse-style move — for a tiebreaking goal just when Canada was struggling to score.
“It was a big goal, but it was also the period I was having,” said Johnson. “I would have been happy with a goal off my skate.”
The Czechs scored first, short-handed, and Canada struggled to find the net until Mason McTavish dug at a puck to stuff it behind goalie Tomas Suchanek. It was Canada’s 20th shot of the first period, and coach Dave Cameron wasn’t happy.
“Nervous would have been my best way to describe how I felt about it,” said Cameron. “You have to stick with it.”
They did, keeping up the pressure. Suchanek had robbed Johnson moments before The Michigan, but Johnson retrieved the rebound, scooped up the puck with the blade of his stick, took it around the net and placed it in the top right corner for a 2-1 lead at the 10-minute mark of the first.
“It happened pretty quick, but I think I just got loose behind the net,” said Johnson. “There was no defenceman on the right post. I just went for it and there was a lot of room. It’s fun it worked out.”
The University of Michigan tweeted: “Michigan Man with a Michigan Goal.”
His teammates loved that he pulled it off.
“This was probably one of the nicest Michigans I’ve seen, honestly,” said McTavish, who finished with two goals. “He got it up so fast, the last minute of the first period. The ice isn’t that great. That was something to watch. I’ll definitely watch it over and over again.”
Brennan Othmann said he’d predicted Johnson would pull it off.
“He did it in our camp a couple weeks ago, so I actually said to him the first day: ‘John, I better see you pull this off in this tournament,’” said Othmann. “When he had the puck behind and I looked over, and then he did it — this guy’s disgusting.”
But the reaction of the night might have been linemate Logan Stankoven’s hands-over-the-head, jaw-dropped look of disbelief, caught by TSN.
“I had a front-row seat to it. I was digging for the puck and it popped out to Kent and he scooped it up so fast. And the next thing you know, it’s in the back of the net. I don’t think many people in the building knew that he had scored until they watched the replay. I can’t believe he pulled that off, so it was pretty cool,” said Stankoven. “I was just in shock … It’s going to be a goal we’ll see for a long time.”
The crowd loved it. And though the crowds are smaller and more subdued than usual for a world junior championship in Canada, this one — the biggest crowd of the tournament at 5,135 — got loud. Canada’s offence seemed to feed off it.
“Goals always add emotion, but this probably added a little extra emotion because of the type of goal it was,” said Cameron.
Ridly Greig scored on a deflection to start the second period. Then McTavish scored again, this time on a breakaway, and the second ended 4-1. By the third, with the game in hand after a slapshot by Tyson Foerster, the crowd even did the wave.
Bill Armstrong of London, Ont., is said to have invented the lacrosse-style move: with the puck on the blade and deposited in the net, rather than shot, usually from behind or beside. He played one game for the Philadelphia Flyers. As a coach, he passed the move on to Mike Legg, also of London, who scored with it for Michigan against Minnesota in an NCAA tournament, with the highlight catching the imagination of hockey fans.
Sidney Crosby, Mikael Granlund, Andrei Svechnikov and Trevor Zegras have all scored using the play in the NHL.
“(It takes a) pretty impressive skill set and set of hands,” said Cameron. “Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into that, skill development. The fact that they’re at it 12 months a year. When you’re the ice every day and you’re feeling the puck, it becomes that much more smooth. This generation of guys, those types of plays, they practise them and they’re very good at them.”
Johnson said he’s been practising the move since he was 14.
“Now it’s something that’s in the tool box,” said Johnson. “I just saw someone do it — I forget who. I practised it and was actually pretty legitimate. No coach had ever told me, but they didn’t really stop it, either. They were fine with it.”
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