Nailers’ Johnson Defines Versatility
WHEELING – Coach Clark Donatelli had seen enough Tuesday morning. He halted what to that point could be described as a sluggish practice at WesBanco Arena, to remind the younger players they were fighting for a job and not many positions are available.
Minutes later on the next round of drills, forward Chaz Johnson saw an opportunity to finish his check and did, taking a defenseman off his skates with the thunderous hit in the corner.
”It kind of set the tone right there and practice did pick up after that,” Donatelli said. ”That’s what he does.
“He brings that to practice and to the game every day. He works and is a good leader.”
In other words, get used to seeing it … a lot.
It’s not uncommon in hockey to dislike opposing players, but rare is the guy who can irritate a fanbase while simultaneously making it long to have him in a home uniform. That’s probably the best description of Johnson, a ninth-year pro from Montreal.
“I have always been like that my whole career,” Johnson, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound right wing said. “I get a lot of heat from the opposition but they always would like to have me on their team.
“I’m a Wheeling Nailer now and that’s the main thing. I’m definitely happy about my decision.”
That decision to leave the rival Elmira Jackals and become a Nailer was a rather personal one. Johnson admits he had an issue with one particular person in that organization, though he declined to name anyone. Johnson traded in his red and blue for black and vegas gold, but says the regular-season opener, Oct. 18 at home against the Jackals, means two points in the standings against a divisional opponent and nothing else.
“If my mom or dad played on their team I would still want to beat them,” he said. “Obviously I know a good core of the guys over there and definitely I am a competitor and don’t like to lose – I’m not comfortable with it.”
Johnson is no more comfortable losing than he is with the outside perception that he’s merely a tough guy, and he has statistics to back up the claim of being an well-rounded player. Johnson only has six fighting majors the last two seasons.
“To be honest, I think it’s funny that people consider me more of a fighter,” Johnson, 29, said. “A lot of people come up to me and say ‘we like the way you fight.’ But if you really look at my history, I didn’t really fight that much in my career.
“The most fights that I have had is when I was 18, and that was 14 majors.”
Instead, Johnson describes himself as a hard-nosed player who isn’t afraid to finish his checks. He will stand up for an occasional teammate, but fans are actually more likely to see Johnson on the scoresheet.
In 473 professional games, Johnson has accumulated 253 points (132g-121a) and has four 20-goal seasons to his credit. Additionally, Johnson has 46 points in 52 career playoff games, including five goals in six games last season with Elmira.
“I just try to bring everything in my toolbox,” Johnson said. “In Elmira, I finished third in scoring one year on the team.
“I don’t know too many guys that just fight who have four or five seasons with 20 games or are a point-a-game player.”
Perhaps the biggest part of Johnson’s arrival is his leadership. In a league that features so many first-year pros, a player with Johnson’s experience could be invaluable.
“That’s why we got him, is for his leadership,” Donatelli said. “The younger guys can look up to him and see that he’s out there working hard every shift on all the drills.”
That’s not a role Johnson minds, actually. In fact, he embraces it because it amounts to the circle of life of a hockey player.
“After my nine years as a vet, I am always open to suggestions if they need advice and I am always willing to help young guys. That because as I was coming up as a rookie, the older guys helped me to develop my game,” he said.
“I’m not really a talkative guy or anything like that. They can see how I work on and off the ice and just feed off that.”
The Nailers play host to Fort Wayne at 7 tonight in their final preseason home game. Fans can clip out the ad that has been running in our sports section, which admits up to 10 people free complements of Ogden Newspapers. … Goaltender Peter Mannino is headed in from Wilkes-Barre and will play tonight. … Donatelli said there won’t be many lineup changes.