Johnson gets feel for international puck

Senior forward Chris Johnson was a member of the ACHA Select Team that competed in Europe. Johnson led Rider in points and goals the last three seasons, setting his career highs of 44 points, 28 goals and 18 assists in two years.

By Rob Rose

A Rider ice hockey player recently traded his cranberry jersey for one with stars and stripes.

Senior forward Chris Johnson was named to the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Select Team that played in the inaugural World Cup of College Hockey. The group faced off against teams of college players from Central Europe and Russia, as well as a semiprofessional Norwegian team.

The Select Team consisted of 22 players from 15 universities and toured Europe from Dec. 28 to Jan. 8 this year.

For the Freeport, New York, native, hockey is something Johnson has done nearly all his life.

“I started skating around 3 and playing hockey at 5,” said Johnson. “Hockey was my first sport, but I played everything growing up.”

Johnson has been a four-year member of the hockey team, earning an assistant captain role on this year’s club team.

“Chris is an exceptional player,” said Head Coach Sean Levin. “He possesses a unique skill set that combines speed, strength and a competitive edge that most players in the ACHA do not have. Chris’ ability to accelerate with the puck allows him the ability to create his own shot. His strength allows him to protect the puck and win 50/50 puck battles. He demands a lot of attention from our opponents which often leaves his teammates open for scoring chances.”

During his four years as a Bronc, Johnson recorded 138 points in 104 games, with 83 goals and 55 assists. Johnson led Rider in points and goals for the last three seasons, including a career-high of 44 points and 18 assists this season and a career-high 28 goals last season.

“It’s always great having a guy like Johnson with his speed and leadership,” said senior defenseman and team captain, JJ Santagata.

Santagata and Johnson played roller hockey together in high school and competed on the same Junior Hockey League team their senior year before coming to Rider as freshmen roommates.

Johnson found out about his position on the Select Team in August 2017, but wasn’t allowed to tell anyone until the roster was officially announced on Dec. 8.

The team consisted of members from the 2017 ACHA All-Star Team, where the Select Team’s coaches were scouting players.

“I didn’t even know this team was a thing until I was at [the all-star game],” said Johnson. “So I obviously wanted to make a pretty good impression.”

The trip began in Albany, New York, on Dec. 26, where the team met for the first time and practiced together before boarding a plane for an eight-hour flight to Norway.

The first game of the tour was a 7-3 victory over the Halden Comets Elite, a Norwegian semiprofessional team. The Selects scored four goals in the first period, dominating from the opening faceoff, despite the intimidating level of competition overseas.

“It was insane,” said Johnson. “It was probably the highest level of hockey I have ever played at. Some of these guys are 35 to 38 years old and grown men.”

In the opening game of the World Cup of College Hockey on Jan. 2, the Selects took on the European University Hockey League All-Stars. The ACHA Select Team started fast out of the gates again, taking a 2-0 lead after the first period. After scoring three more goals and allowing only one, the Selects cruised to 5-1 win.

The following game saw the Select Team’s toughest opponents of the trip, the Russian Student Hockey League (SHL) All-Stars.

The SHL team defeated the ACHA Selects team 7-0 and 6-1 in back-to-back games on Jan. 5 to secure the World Cup of College Hockey title.

“[That was] the best team I have ever played,” said Johnson.

The final matchup of the tour came on Jan. 6 when the Selects took on Hokiklub Budapest, winning a high-scoring battle, 7-5.

The group traveled to five countries on the tour, stopping in Norway, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Sweden. The trip was not only about hockey though, as Johnson, who had never traveled to Europe before, took in sights along the way and made memories with his new teammates.

“The games were obviously fun, but just meeting a bunch of guys you never met before and becoming so close after a few days was great,” said Johnson. “A lot of the fun was just going out at night and seeing the different nightlife. It was just more fun being with a group of guys your age.”

As for his future plans, Johnson is potentially returning to Rider for graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in homeland security after completing his bachelor’s in criminal justice.

He plans to pursue a career with the FBI, United States Marshals or another government agency.

Johnson viewed the trip as an overall success, both personally and for the team.

“I think I did pretty well; it took a little bit to adjust to the speed, but when you’re playing with good players, it really helps out,” said Johnson. “I was pretty satisfied, I was just happy to be there.”

Follow Rob Rose on Twitter for the latest news on Rider ice hockey.

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