Johnson Looks To Show That Lightning Can Strike Twice

Like a delicious appetizer, Tyler Johnson’s 14-game “taste of the NHL” at the tail end of the 2012-13 season only whetted his appetite for the full-course smorgasbord in The Show.

Two years later, the 24-year-old Spokane, Wash., native continues to feast on opposing goalies as a mainstay in the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup.

Determined to prove that last season’s “All Rookie Team” nomination was no fluke, Johnson has returned to the ice with a renewed hunger. Twenty games into his sophomore season, Johnson’s on a point-per-game pace, which makes coach Jon Cooper proud of his progress.

“It’s been quite a ride,” said Cooper, whose coaching path has closely followed Johnson’s rise up the playing ranks.

 “Just to watch the growth of Tyler has been pretty remarkable and really gratifying because he’s such an outstanding kid. You’re cheering for him to succeed.”

Despite a rich hockey history in the Pacific Northwest, the number of players to make it to the big show is few. As a young high school kid in Spokane, it looked as though Johnson would bypass the local Western Hockey League club and follow the Div. I route.

Yet, after much deliberation, Johnson rerouted his hockey path and opted to suit up for the hometown Chiefs.


Tyler Johnson #9

Position: Center

Shoots: Right 

Height: 5-foot-9

Weight: 182 pounds 

Birth Date: July 29, 1990

Hometown: Spokane, Wash. 

USA Hockey History:Helped lead the U.S. to gold at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship. Was also a member of the 2009 U.S. National Junior Team. Competed in 2014 for the U.S. National Team at the IIHF World Championship.

“It’s pretty intimidating when you’re 17 years old playing Junior hockey in Spokane, and you have 10,000 people screaming and yelling in the building, cheering you on,” Johnson said. “It was cool for me because a lot of those people were people I knew growing up.”

Playing close to home seemed to suit Johnson, who tallied 128 goals and 154 assists before signing an entry-level contract with the Lightning in March 2011. 

Making the jump from Juniors to the professional ranks was a “big learning curve,” but Johnson continued to show his knack for scoring with 31 goals and 37 assists in his first season with the Norfolk Admirals, Tampa’s American Hockey League affiliate.

As the Lightning switched AHL affiliates to the Syracuse Crunch, the 5-foot-9 Johnson continued to work on his two-way game under the tutelage of Cooper.

“When you’re smaller, you need to have something that separates you from everybody. Tyler’s speed does that for him,” Cooper said. “Yet, Tyler Johnson thought about one net, and it wasn’t his own. That’s the reason he’s in the NHL; he finally rounded out his game.

“The guys who figure out how to play defense in the NHL have long careers, and the guys that don’t remain in the minors. Johnny figured it out.”

Part of figuring it out meant focusing on the finer points of the game — killing penalties, faceoffs and playing tight-checking hockey — which will help ensure that Johnson has a long career in The Show.

 

“You’re constantly thinking about hockey,” said Johnson about life in the NHL. “There is some mental fatigue, but you know that every day you have to be better or someone else is going to pass you.”

 


 

YOUTH STAR

Caden Gesualdi
Age: 12
South Windsor, Conn.

Caden Gesualdi may have been born without a right hand, but the 12-year-old hasn’t let anything keep him from playing the game he loves. 

“I don’t let it drag me down, and I don’t use it as an excuse for not being able to play,” Caden says. “I love hockey because I find it really fun. I also like the speed of the game.”

Caden started skating when he was 5 years old in a Learn to Skate program, and progressed to an in-house program in the South Windsor Youth Hockey Association. 

The second-year Peewee first started using a stick by placing it under his arm to shoot, which meant using a much longer stick. Several years ago, though, Shriners Hospitals for Children in Springfield, Mass., outfitted Caden with prosthetics specifically geared for hockey. Since then, Caden has remained committed to the game he loves.

“Hockey is trumping all other sports right now for him,” says his father David.

Other than needing some help tying his skates, Caden is extremely independent.

Caden’s dad offers some advice for parents with a child in a similar situation as his son.

 

“Don’t hold them back and be worried that they cannot play a certain sport,” he advises. “Let them go in their own direction, and they will figure it out.”

Issue: 
2014-12

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