An 11-year age gap doesn’t stop Kenny Johnson from being close to his brother Jack, an NHL defenceman with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“I actually started playing forward when I was younger. I switched to D just because I wanted to be like my brother,” said Kenny, a rookie with the Penticton Vees. “I was always looking up to him. He’s my role model. I always ask him for tips in situations. I call him every now and then.”
Kenny called Jack recently to tell him he’s playing in Canada and enjoying it. So what advice did big brother have?
“He told me to make sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to do,” said Kenny. “Be (a) responsible D. Be the best one on the ice and play simple.”
Jack, who has 58 goals and 244 points in 629 career NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings and Blue Jackets, also told Kenny he has more time than he thinks.
“The game is fast, but if you just hold onto the puck for an extra second, things open up,” said Kenny. “Play simple, do your job. The best defenceman is never noticed.”
In four BCHL games, the University of Michigan Wolverines commit said his experience has been awesome.
“It’s cool getting away and playing for the best team in Canada,” said Kenny. “I think I’ve done well. I’m starting to get some ice time, make my name and it’s a different system. Getting to know the guys is one thing too. I’ve had more games than practice. I’m kind of jumping right into the fire.”
The BCHL’s speed has been the adjustment for the hulking 6-3, 225-pound rearguard who is adapting to faster and stronger players.
“I like to play physical and take the body. I think I can do that here,” said Kenny. “It’s not really that big of an adjustment besides just speed.”
Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson has seen improvement.
“He’s a big body that plays with an edge,” said Harbinson. “He is fitting in really well.”
Kenny and the Vees have one more game on the road in West Kelowna Friday before playing their first in the South Okanagan Events Centre against the Trail Smoke Eaters this Saturday. That is something fellow rookie defenceman Jonny Tychonick said they are excited about.
“We’re going to bring it as another game. We’re going to be ready for it,” said Tychonick. “They’re big. Lots of home openers are big, but we take our home games seriously. We want to win as many games as possible at home. We’re going to show them what we’ve got.”
During a visit last season when the Vees hosted Chilliwack, Tychonick experienced the atmosphere first hand.
“The atmosphere here was awesome,” he said.
“We’re excited to get back to home,” said Vees captain Nic Jones. “We haven’t experienced anything like our place. There is a couple of other places in the league like ours, but playing at home is special. Everyone is jacked up for it.”
Vees notes: A 5-1-0 record has the team ranked 14th in the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s top 20, behind the Wenatchee Wild, at 10. Player collectable posters are returning with Jones being the first to sign in the concourse of the BC Hockey Hall of Fame following Saturday’s game. Fans are encouraged to arrive on time, 6 p.m. start, as the club will unveil its BCHL regular season championship and Interior Division regular season pennant. They will also be introducing the “Ring of Honour,” prior to puck drop, including the original 13 inductees that were honoured at Memorial Arena. The 13 are: Chris Parker (1976 to ’78), Grant Mulvey (1971 to ’73), Rick Kozuback (1908 to ’86), Gordie McKay (1973 to ’77), Bob Nicholson (1970 to ’73), Ivan McLelland (1951 to ’57), Andy Moog (1976 ti ’78), Ray Ferraro (1981-82), Bruce Afflect (1970 to ’72), Grant Warwick (1952 to ’56), Larry Lund (1972-72, ’82 to ’87), Kevin Maxwell (1976 to ’78) and George McAvoy (1952 to ’55).