By Ross Forman
As a freshman for the Crystal Lake South JV team, Nicholas Johnson played forward and though he admittedly did not have a lot of speed, he was able to position himself around the net, which led to some goals.
“During the season, there were a couple of games that Coach (Wayne) Bowers put me on defense and I decided I liked that position better,” Johnson said. “By the next season, I had picked up some speed and asked Coach Bower if I could switch to defense. He said we could try it out and I ended up on defense full-time. I worked on my slap shot and was even able to score a few points as a defenseman.”
This season, Johnson transitioned again – to goalie.
“When I played in (the) house (league) at the Crystal Lake Ice House, they didn’t have a lot of goalies, so I thought I would try it out. I liked it a lot, but my last year there I had a bad experience that (affected) my confidence.
“Then last year, at a few of our practices, I got in the net and I wasn’t terrible. I realized I still really liked playing that position. I asked Coach Bower if I could try out for goalie for the spring season. He said OK and in my first couple of games I had two shutouts.
“So this season I decided to keep the pads on and be a goalie – and I really like it. At the (pre-season) Gator Cup this year I got a shutout and helped my team make it to the final round and we won the JV (title).”
Johnson, 18, lives in Crystal Lake and sports jersey No. 21. “When I was younger, I played soccer and each year I got the (jersey) No. 2, so that kind of became my favorite number. However, when I went out for the hockey team someone already had that number, so I had to pick another number. While I was trying to figure out what number I wanted, it dawned on me that birthday is the 21st of March and I will be graduating from Crystal Lake South High School in 2021. So, I decided to pick No. 21 for my jersey.”
Johnson said being a goalie certainly comes with pressure.
“You need to keep your head on a swivel and peak around players to keep your eye on the puck,” he said. “It is really easy to start doubting yourself when a puck gets past you. You just have to learn to shake it off and stop the next one. My teammates are really great and help me on the ice by blocking some shots before they even get to me. When shots get past me and the other team scores, they come over and help to boost my confidence back up.”
Bower praised Johnson for his willingness to play anywhere, literally.
“Nick is a one-in-a-million player … and also a one-in-a-million kid who is always there for his teammates,” Bower said. “He does whatever it takes to insure that the younger kids feel at home. He has a smile on his face and genuinely loves to be at the rink and play for his school.”
This season, Johnson already has recorded a shutout as a goaltender, scored a short-handed game-winning goal and been a shut-down defenseman in key situations.
“The past two seasons have helped me out for playing goalie. Well, mostly last year helped me out when I played defense,” Johnson said. “As a defenseman, it is just as important for you to stop the puck as the goalie. You need to do what you can to stop their offense from scoring, protecting your net and your goalie. Of course, having been on offense myself I know how players like to screen the goalie so they can’t see the shots coming. So, as a goalie I know I have to do what I can to peak around them and keep my eye on the puck.
“My emotions in goal are always changing and can change quickly, especially if the other team scores. For the most part, I try to stay loose and happy and if I am having a good game, I am really happy.”
“So far, this season seems to be off to a good start,” Johnson said. “We have some new guys who seem to be fitting in and working well together. I was selected as an alternate captain and look forward to working with them.
“My most memorable moment from last season was winning the Big Bear Tournament in Indiana. I always enjoy going out of town for tournaments, as we all get to hang out on the bus and I feel it really helps us to get to know each other.” Johnson said his goal this season is just improvement, including increasing his reaction time and positioning in the net.
Favorite NHL Team: “The Chicago Blackhawks, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are a close second.”
Favorite NHL player: Alex Ovechkin
Favorite Sport (other than hockey): Football – “It is a lot of fun going to the Crystal Lake South football games and it is great that they are going to the (state) playoffs.”
Favorite app: Snapchat
Favorite TV Show: “I don’t really watch TV, but I did get into the Walking Dead for a while.”
Favorite Movie: “The Mighty Ducks”
Favorite Pregame Meal: “I don’t like to eat too much before my games, but I do like spaghetti.”
Best Hockey Tip: “I can’t think of one right now, but I do like a saying from Wayne Gretzky: ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’”
Favorite Pregame Motivational Song: “I am Shipping off to Boston” by the Drop Kick Murphy’s
Favorite Sports Movie: The Mighty Ducks”
The 2020 Stanley Cup Winner Will Be: “As much as I would love to say the Chicago Blackhawks, I think it will be the Toronto Maple Leafs.”
Best High School Jersey (other than CLS): “There isn’t one that is better than the CLS Gator jersey, but the Spartans’ jerseys are okay.”
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.