Goaltender Josh Johnson was the first player the Gwinnett Gladiators signed for the 2009-10 season. He returns to the team after playing the majority of his second pro season here last year.
Johnson, 25, was acquired in a trade with South Carolina last November. He began his pro career with the Stingrays after four seasons at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, just 10 miles from his hometown.
The easy-going and well-liked netminder stayed in Gwinnett this summer rather than head back to his native Minnesota and took some time recently to talk with staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including including North vs. South, idiosyncratic goalies and heckling, for this installment of "Getting to Know ..."
CT: So you've played in two Duluths. Give me the pros and cons.
JJ: Well, huh, I guess I've never even really thought about that. Um, pros and cons ... Duluth Minnesota's cold.
CT: I assume that's a con?
JJ: That's a con. The pro would be obviously I went to college there. Duluth Georgia, nice and warm, pros. Cons? I don't know. The bugs maybe? I guess that's be all I had for that one.
CT: Compare the traffic for me?
JJ: Oh my goodness. Duluth (Minn.), traffic's nice. I guess Minneapolis would be a little bigger. But yeah, I've never seen anything like this.
CT: What was it like playing for basically your hometown college?
JJ: There were pros and cons. That was my top pick, you know. Growing up I always watched them. I had the opportunity obviously to attend the college there, which was my ultimate goal. Everyone dreams of the NHL, but as I was growing up, getting an education and a degree became my No. 1 goal. Then you move from there.
But, yeah, I signed right out of high school. Really excited. Played a year of junior in Green Bay and I went in and was excited. I thought I was going to be the go-to guy. I was never a backup before. And I didn't play a whole lot my freshman year because we made it to the Frozen Four. I think I had like nine games.
Sophomore year, I played a little more. You know, it's hard to explain, but when you're not playing, and you know a lot of people in town obviously, they're like, "What's going on? Are you injured?" And you don't know really what to say. Because I was never really in the situation of a backup position. So it was a little goofy.
But like I said, it's a learning experience. I took a lot out of it. Basically at that age I learned however we win, it doesn't really matter who plays. That's kind of the attitude I took out of there and I think, obviously, it's helped me playing today.
CT: Did you finish your degree before you left?
JJ: I didn't actually. I changed my major my sophomore year. So I'm actually taking classes right now. I've got six credits to go and I'm taking them this summer.
CT: What will your degree be in?
JJ: Criminology major and a minor in psychology.
CT: The psychology must help out, right?
CT: In college did you live at home?
JJ: Nope. In college, it was mandatory that you lived freshman year on campus and then after that we just got a place with a bunch of the guys. It was a good setup. It was a lot of fun.
CT: That close to home, did you have to worry about unexpected parental drop-ins?
JJ: I didn't actually. I don't think my parents wanted to go to my house (laughing). Sophomore year we lived with six guys and it was huge and messy.
But my junior and senior year, my really good buddy's dad bought us a place. We had a really nice setup. It was a small three-bedroom close to campus where you could walk. Ping-pong table in the garage.
CT: Ahhhh ...
JJ: Yeah, that was the go-to.
CT: Does that make you good at the ping-pong tournaments that go on in the Gladiators locker room?
JJ: Ahh, I wouldn't say "good." I consider myself a contender. But I think Josh Engel's probably the best I've ever seen.
CT: Oh, really? Better than Jeff (Pyle, the head coach)? I heard no one's better than Jeff.
JJ: Uh, I'm not going to comment on that one. I plead the fifth one that one. But no, Pyler actually beat me a few times, too. Him and Hoops (equipment manager Patrick Houlihan) are good.
CT: How old were you when you first skated?
JJ: I think I was 3 years old. But obviously it's a little different back home compared to here. You can go out on the ponds and everything.
CT: I know. I think that might be one of the few things I miss living where it's truly cold in the winter. You can just pick up your skates and your stick and gloves, and a few friends and play.
JJ: That was my favorite thing, even in college during Christmas break. We had about nine days off, I'd go to my parents' place and just go outside and skate from sunup to sundown.
And then I can be a skater actually. I don't know. I think I picked the wrong position. I keep telling Pyler I'm a good power-play specialist. He just doesn't believe me. Maybe one day.
CT: When did you become a goalie?
JJ: I'm trying to think of the age. It was pee wees (12 and under). I was actually a forward my whole life. Loved it. It was awesome. But somehow I got picked to do like a select thing as a goaltender. And I don't know how. I only played a few times (in net) and somehow I got chosen. Don't ask me.
So I went to the select camp and somehow did pretty decent. I came back and was like well, hey, maybe this could work. So I completely just switched. Like 180. I don't know if it worked out (laughing).
CT: You got a college education for free and you're playing pro hockey.
JJ: Yeah, I mean, I guess it did work out. You couldn't really ask for anything more.
CT: Would you say you adhere to a particular style or school of goaltending?
JJ: Um, I don't know exactly. Just keeping the puck out of the net.
CT: That's a good school.
CT: Was there any culture shock when you moved to the South?
JJ: Maybe just the "y'alls," the driving and the food. Other than that, no. I think I've always kind of wanted to go to the South. I just kind of like it down here. And the food is good.
CT: Do have favorites?
JJ: Mac and cheese. I've never had anything like it.
CT: It's so not what you get out of the box.
JJ: No, it's fantastic. (Dan Sullivan's) wife actually makes really good mac and cheese.
CT: Goalies have a reputation - deserved or not -
JJ: I knew we were going here.
CT: - for being a little weirder than most. What are your thoughts? Because frankly you seen pretty normal to me.
JJ: You know, I would like to think that as well.
CT: Maybe because you haven't been a goalie your whole life. There's a little forward left in you.
JJ: Yeah. I think you do have to be a little different to want to get hit by the puck. I think, personally, we're the smartest people on the ice - everyone's chasing the puck and we're just waiting for it to get to us. Makes sense. Yeah, I don't know. I'd like to think I'm a little normal. I think if you ask any of my teammates they might argue that one (laughing).
CT: Do you have a game-day routine that you stick to?
JJ: I do. Everything is down to minutes. Everything. From the time I eat to the time I nap. I have to make one phone call and talk to one person every time. Pretty particular.
CT: Do you do this on any gameday, even if you know you aren't playing?
JJ: No, when I'm not playing, I'm a little more relaxed. Obviously you always have to be ready for the game. But maybe not as long of a nap. I still do my stretches and all that kind of stuff. I'm a big coffee fanatic. Huge caffeine buff. It's not a good thing. I don't drink any coffee when I'm playing. But when I'm not playing, maybe I'll have a couple of cups.
CT: If the minutes get out of whack, does that throw you off?
JJ: No. I'm pretty lenient on it. I've got everything set up, but it's not going to blow my game.
CT: Do goalies get anything out of Juice Boy (the team's elimination rounds of shootouts in practice)?
JJ: A juice. That's about it. Not a big fan of that game. The guys don't like it but sometimes the goalies have a little plan to get it going a little quicker.
CT: I was going to ask, I've seen some epically long Juice Boys and at some point, do you just go, "this should be over with"?
JJ: Oh, yeah. (Chris) Cava last year, he came down and missed and I was like, "Go five-hole next time."
CT: Did you have a consistent road roommate?
JJ: I didn't actually. Years past I always did. But I liked everyone that I got.
CT: No bad snorers or anything?
JJ: I don't think so. It might have been me, then.
CT: Maybe that's why you had a different roommate every time.
JJ: Yeah, no kidding.
CT: What kind of music do you prefer?
JJ: It's old-school, but I love Nirvana. I don't know why. That's about all I can play on the guitar. I have numerous books and all their CDs.
I like all kinds of music. I love live music. It doesn't matter what it is. I just recently tried to start playing the guitar. About a year in. And it's hard. I see those guys playing live and it's just like, "Wow."
CT: Beach or mountains for vacation?
JJ: Beach for sure.
CT: Dog or cat?
CT: North or South?
JJ: Good question. We'll go with South for now.
CT: Do you say pop or soda?
JJ: I've been trying to say soda. But back home it's always pop.
CT: Favorite ECHL building to play in as a visitor?
JJ: I don't know. I did like playing here as a visitor because the fans always heckle you.
CT: Is the goalie chanting universal?
JJ: Yep. Believe it or not, they're actually a lot more lenient down here then back home.
CT: Really? They ride you pretty hard?
JJ: Nonstop. Down here, it's like this is a breeze. You guys are just calling me a sieve? Weird.
CT: You just threw down the gauntlet.