Saturday, June 10, 2023

Frozen Four: Gophers defenseman Ryan Johnson goes about his business of quietly shutting down teams

BOSTON – Days of the boom box in the middle of the hockey locker room, cranking Bon Jovi or AC/DC off cassettes to pump players up before a game, Cooperall and a two-game total goal chain disappeared long after falling Not done. Old Fashion.

Today, almost every player prepares for a game with headphones or earbuds in, choosing their own soundtrack to propel them to success on the ice. For some this means hard rock, techno or even country tunes. Since then, goalkeeper Jacques LaFontaine will also listen to uplifting instrumental music from the film soundtrack.

If Gophers defender Ryan Johnson is listening to Jimmy Buffett’s tune called “Shut Up Noise” before the game, it would be perfectly fitting for the role junior is playing on the ice during the current playoff run. It seems that on TV, fellow blueliners Brock Faber and Jackson LaCombe get the most publicity, and their influences at both ends of the rink deserve so much to do with the plays.

True to his reserved nature, Johnson eats just minutes, plays a perfect shutdown role and even won from behind a victory over UMass, with a crucial goal in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“He carries himself like a pro,” Gophers assistant coach Garrett Rabouin said of Johnson, who was a first-round pick (31st overall) by the Buffalo Sabers in the 2019 NHL Draft. “He’s very into his craft. Prepares by working, and you see it on the ice. He’s just so efficient, he logs the minute he logs in. ,

In an overtime win over UMass, Johnson was on the ice for more than 30 minutes in a game that lasted 68 minutes and 31 seconds. After the Gophers were trailing 2–0 in the first period, a Johnson shot saw a UMass player and put Minnesota on the scoreboard in the net. In the regional final two days later, Johnson played nearly 27 minutes out of 60 as the Gophers closed western Michigan and advanced to this week’s Frozen Four.

Extra time on the ice is nothing new for second-generation Southern California gopher Johnson, who has been known to spend 30 to 60 minutes on the ice by himself after practice ends, working on smaller aspects of his game.

“He does the whole skating routine for another 30 minutes and you let him do that,” Blake McLaughlin said, adding that it’s nearly impossible to get Johnson off the ice. “We tried his freshman year, but he never goes early.”

Next, the Gophers (26-12) will play Minnesota State Mankato (37-5) in the second semifinal of Frozen Four on Thursday, starting at 7:30 p.m., with Michigan (31-9) playing Denver (29) in the first match. -9) will play. Semifinals, Thursday at 4 p.m. The winners meet on Saturday at 7 p.m.

One of the more devout Christians on the team, Johnson has been open about his faith and can even spend hours eating Bible passages during a road trip, devoting time to his classes. He’s one of the team’s more serious players, but that quiet exterior hides a burning desire for victory.

“He’s got a fire in his stomach, no question, and he competes at the highest level I’ve ever seen,” said Raboine. “You don’t always see it in the emotion on his face, but you can see it in his game.”

So while Faber and LaCombe share the team’s defensive spotlight in the second-round draft, first-rounder Johnson quietly goes about his business, presses other team playmates, and draws praise from those with whom he shares the locker room. does.

Co-captain Ben Meyers said of Johnson, “Fabs and Comber get a lot of credit, but Ryan Johnson is the unsung hero of our group, which he does defensively and plays his full game,” Johnson has Career best 19 points. And plus is 5. “He has scored points this year as well. He is a very sleepy player. Everyone in our team knows about it, but he doesn’t get much recognition for what he does.”

Johnson, 20 years his junior, is second on the team in blocked shots (44) and seventh in shots on goal (68).

Hobie Baker Finalist

When the Hobby Baker Awards committee began narrowing the list of 10 finalists to “hat tricks” of three players in 2002, Gophers defenseman Jordan Leopold was part of that trio, and was the most from the U to win college hockey’s Top. Recently became a skater. personal honors that year.

The Gophers have since had half a dozen players named in the Hobby Top 10 – Keith Ballard (2004), Ryan Potulny (2006), Adam Wilcox (2014), Mike Reilly (2015), Tyler Sheaey (2017) and Jack LaFontaine (2021). – But none of them have reached the hat-trick stage.

That changed last week when Meyers was named one of three finalists for the trophy, which will be handed out Friday evening in Boston. True to his team-first nature, Meyers has made it his goal to win a trophy in Boston, not an individual trophy.

“Obviously I was very excited,” Meyers said of seeing his name on the hat-trick list alongside Denver forward Bobby Brink and Minnesota State Mankato goalkeeper Dryden McKay. “But at the same time, I was not prepared to win the hobby this year. We want to win the national championship. If you have a really good team and you play well, these things come along.”

If his name is called on Friday, Meyers will be the fifth gopher to win the hobby after Neil Brotten (1981), Rob Stauber (1988), Brian Bonin (1996) and Leopold (2002).

feels like home

Despite promises to the contrary, the Gophers practiced at Ridder Arena—not some suburban Boston rink—to prepare for their Frozen Four showdown with Mankato. After winning the Worcester Regional, about an hour west of Boston, their head coach joked that the Gophers were looking into VRBO for a long-term rental somewhere near TD Garden.

“We’ve talked about the fact that we really like Massachusetts, and we have no choice but to stay in this state for the next three weeks,” Bob Motzko said in a DCU Center win over Western Michigan. Said after. Worcester. “It was one of those things we talked about that was coming to Massachusetts and playing well. One weekend’s over, and we’ll be back.”

Motzko admitted that his last time in Boston behind the Gophers bench came in early 2005, his final season as an assistant coach under Don Lucia. Topped in national polls at the time, the Gophers visited Boston University on January 2–3, winning 2–1 in the final game played at BU’s historic Walter Brown Arena, then 2–1 the next night in the opening game. fell by -1. Agnis Arena, which has since been the Terriers’ home rink.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been with a team. I was with Minnesota when we went back a few years and opened the new BU Rink,” Motzko said. “It’s an incredible city and I’ve been there several times over the years. It will have a little Western feel to it. I hope the people of Massachusetts will like the people of Minnesota.”

TV, Radio

Thursday’s Gophers game versus Mankato at TD Garden in Boston begins at 7:30 p.m. CT and will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU with John Buccigross, Barry Melrose and Colby Cohen. On the radio, the Gophers can be heard in the Twin Cities at 1130 AM/103.5 FM with a volley shaver and Frank Mazzocco behind the microphone. The first semi-final between Michigan and Denver begins at 4 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on ESPN2.

The Gophers’ in-state rivalry with the Mavericks began on January 2–3, 1998, when Minnesota began a home series versus event, then known as Mankato State. The U lead the all-time series with MSU 37-17-6, although the Mavericks won their last meeting 4-0 in the Loveland Regional Championship game on March 28, 2021.

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