Excitement, relief and gratification are the emotions Logan Johnston feels after accepting a scholarship to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell River Kings.
The Penticton minor hockey product secured his hockey future while watching his team, now ranked No. 3 in the Canadian Junior Hockey League rankings, enjoy success from the stands.
The agreement between the grinning Vees captain and the River Hawks was completed Friday morning. Johnston recently visted a school, but UMass-Lowell wasn’t one of them.
“Ultimately, I went with my gut on it,” said Johnston.
In the River Kings’ 30-year history they have made eight appearances in the National Collegiate Athletic Association playoffs. The first NHL player they produced was Craig MacTavish, who won four Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers. In total, the River Hawks graduated 14 players who have played in the NHL.
When news broke about Johnston, former teammates Joey Holka and Garrett Milan expressed their congratulations on Twitter. Current teammates praised their captain.
“He’s been working for five years hard,” said Curtis Loik, who recently secured a scholarship with the Penn State Nittany Lions. “That was his goal to be a student athlete. It’s good for him to commit to a very good hockey program. A very good academic school.”
Loik described Johnston as the kind of teammate who does everything on the ice, including scoring goals, playing in the dirty areas, blocking shots and contributing on special teams.
“He loves just being out there,” said Loik. “Banging bodies, fights.”
In the time Loik has been with the Vees, he has spent time with Johnston away from the rink, but remembers what he first thought upon meeting Johnston.
“He’s pretty rough, you don’t really know if he’s mean, if he’s happy,” said Loik. “He’s always happy, he’s always positive. Great attitude. It’s good to be around him. Guys are happy for him.”
Vees defenceman Chad Bannor said Johnston works hard every day and comes to the rink prepared and focused. “He’s been a great leader and it’s too bad about his suspension, but he’s been taking it well and working hard. It’s (scholarship) a compliment to him. He’s a great person and a good hockey player.”
Johnston, 20, is in his fourth season with the Vees and has played in 173 career regular season games registering 27 goals and 69 points. In 2010-2011, the Penticton native recorded 11 goals and 32 points in 56 games. The power-forward is coming off an impressive playoff performance last spring, scoring six goals and nine points in as many games earning him Co-Playoff MVP honours.
“I am very proud of what Logan has accomplished in his time as a Penticton Vee,” said Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson. “He has shown dedication and perseverance developing over the last four and a half years; first as an AP in 07-08 and to the present as our current captain and leader.”
Johnston is currently serving a 25-game suspension and is eligible to return on Nov. 26 versus the Chilliwack Chiefs.
“It’s a relief for him,” said Loik of Johnston earning the scholarship despite not having played any games this season. “That suspension really put him back and I think if the league let up he could have really helped us a lot more. We’re doing pretty well but when he gets back in the lineup we’ll be a powerhouse for sure.”
The Vees, who are coming off a 5-4 overtime win against the Merritt Centennials, travel to Vernon on Wednesday to face the Vipers for their third meeting of the season. The Vees have won teh last two games by identical scores of 6-2.
“We got behind the eight ball and just ended up chasing the last couple games,” said Vipers coach Jason Williamson, of their previous meetings. “We want to start playing with that edge early. Play with that chip on their shoulder from the drop of the puck and we’ll be fine.”
Defencemen Luke Juha and Brett Corkey and forward Aaron Hadley are trying out for Team Canada West.
Check www.pentictonwesternnews.com to see a video interview of Johnston talking about the River Hawks.
Steve Kidd/Western News
Kyle Beaulieu (left) lets Merritt Centennial forward Brent Fletcher (not pictured) know that he won’t tolerate being sucker punched. The two exchanged words before Fletcher threw a punch during a skirmish in Saturday’s game, which the Vees won 5-4 in overtime at the South Okanagan Events Centre.