ST. CLOUD, Minn. — To say it will be easier for Jack Johnston's family to get to games in college than it was when he played junior hockey is like saying that business has slowed for restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic.
It's not inaccurate, but it's a bit of an understatement.
Johnston has played junior hockey for the Fairbanks (Alaska) Ice Dogs for the last three seasons in the North American Hockey League. The 20-year-old forward from St. Paul, Minn., was the team's captain this past season and he has verbally committed to play this fall for St. Cloud State. He also was talking to Western Michigan and Massachusetts.
Johnston said he has been in contact with the Huskies' coaching staff, on and off, for about the last 2 1/2 years and said he is excited about accepting the team's offer.
"It was kind of a long process with St. Cloud, but we've had pretty good communication with them in the last couple of weeks and watched this formulate into a plan," he said. "I just decided that this was always the school I wanted to go to and I was excited to take the opportunity that was given."
Johnston played for St. Paul Academy from 2013-17, helped the Spartans take fourth place in the 2016 Class A state tournament and had 78 goals and 150 points in 111 career games.
Ice Dog captain
After graduating, he went to Fairbanks and helped the Ice Dogs win two division titles (2018, 2019) to reach the four-team Robertson Cup Championship tournament in Blaine, Minn. In 178 career games with Fairbanks, he had 52 goals, 72 assists, 124 points, 76 penalty minutes and was a plus-64.
In 2019-20, he was the team captain and had 18 goals, 27 assists, 45 points, 36 penalty minutes and was a plus-25 in 52 games. Fairbanks had a 17-point lead in the Midwest Division race when the season ended because of the pandemic.
"It was a great opportunity and I was put in a good position for leadership," Johnston said. "I was able to kind of lead the guys in a way I wasn't able to before. It was a good feeling.
"On the ice, I thought statistically, it was a pretty solid season," said Johnston, who had career-bests in goals, assists, points and plus/minus. "I was very happy with how this year went, especially now with what's been figured out for the next four years. It was a pretty good success."
Johnston, who is played mostly right wing this past season and said that he prides himself in being a two-way player.
"One of the things and got to figure out pretty well is the defensive side of the game," he said. "It's made a big difference in my game as a whole.
"I'd say I've got a hard working, grit edge to the game, but I'm also able to make plays offensively with skill and speed. I think I know how to get to the right spots in front of the net and that's where most of my damage is done. I just try to make good plays with good hockey sense and good hockey IQ."
Battle for playing time
Johnston said he made a campus visit last summer and Fairbanks also visited the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in the preseason when the Ice Dogs were playing the St. Cloud Blizzard in some exhibition games.
Johnston will be part of what appears to be a six-player freshman class for St. Cloud State this fall. He will be one of four forwards in the class along with Veeti Miettinen (Finland, juniors), Joe Molenaar (United States Hockey League, juniors) and Jared Cockrell, a graduate transfer from Colgate. The two freshmen defensemen will be Brady Ziemer (Green Bay, USHL) and Seamus Donohue, a graduate transfer from Michigan Tech.
The Huskies have 11 forwards, who played 12 games or more last season, expected to return.
"It's going to be a battle, obviously, they didn't lose too many guys and they've got some solid guys coming in as well," Johnston said. "But I've always had a lot of pride in fighting for what's mine and trying to make the most of the opportunities that are in front of me.
"Right from the get-go, I'm going to have to be working and bringing my 'A' game to find a spot in the lineup. Hopefully as time goes, I'll find myself in a position to lead and do what I can to help the team make a push for a championship."
And it will be nice to be playing closer to home for his parents.
"They had a HockeyTv account so they watched every game back home and they made a few trips up to Fairbanks and taht was always special when they got to be up there," he said. "Obviously, a lot nicer now, being only an hour-and-a-half away from home and they'll get to watch in person a few more times."
Evan Bushy in final NHL Draft rankings
St. Cloud State recruit Evan Bushy, a 6-foot, 183-pound defenseman from Thief River Falls, Minn., is ranked 156th among North American skaters eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Bushy was ranked 146th in the midterm rankings.
Bushy led the Prowlers in assists (27) and points (42) in 27 high school games this season. He also had a goal and an assist, six penalty minutes and was a minus-2 in 14 USHL games for the Sioux City Musketeers and Sioux Falls Stampede.