For Port Moody’s Kent Johnson, it’s always exciting when his Trail Smoke Eaters visit the Coquitlam Express because he gets to play in front of family and friends from his Heritage Mountain neighbourhood.
But this year’s lone visit by Johnson’s BC Hockey League team to his home turf on Dec. 6 may be trumped by his first chance to wear the maple leaf.
Johnson is among the 44 players invited to a selection camp Dec. 1 to 3 in Calgary to determine the team that will represent western Canada’s five Junior A hockey leagues in the World Junior A Challenge. The nine-day tournament will be played in Dawson Creek beginning Dec. 7 and features all-star teams from eastern Canada, Czech Republic, Russia and the United States.
Playing for his country would be another notch in Johnson’s belt, which has already accumulated a considerable number of achievements this season. The 17-year-old second-year centreman leads the league in scoring, has been twice named player of the week and in October he was named player of the month.
That has caught the attention of pro scouts assessing young players eligible for the 2021 NHL entry draft, although Johnson, who’s committed to play at the University of Michigan beginning next fall, said he tries not to think about their presence.
“It’s obviously a goal of mine,” Johnson said of playing in the NHL. “But I just try to focus on being good here.”
When “here” is the BCHL’s easternmost outpost, Johnson said keeping his eyes on the prize isn’t hard.
He said the rabid support the team enjoys in Trail is especially motivating. “You want to practise and get better so we can do something special in Trail.”
Johnson said his transition from suburbia, where he played minor hockey in Port Moody and then for North Shore Winter Club, to small town, was eased by the experience of his older brother, Kyle Johnson, who played three seasons for the BCHL’s Prince George Spruce Kings before heading to Yale University, where he’s in his second year. The two exchange text messages almost daily, and train together in the off-season.
This past summer, that training took on extra urgency as Johnson prepped for a breakout season. The brothers worked out in the gym to build strength, then hit the ice at various rinks around Metro Vancouver to hone their skating and skills.
“I like to be on the ice a lot and improve my stickhandling,” Johnson said, adding the extra responsibility that comes with being a veteran player has also stoked his ambition.
So far, Johnson has thrived in the role.
His linemate, Michael Colella, is third in the BCHL scoring race and the Smoke Eaters are in the thick of a playoff race in the league’s Interior division. Johnson said Colella is a good complement to his own playmaking abilities.
“We’re just two smart offensive players who are on the same page,” he said. “We look for each other and we just clicked.”
With the move to Michigan looming in 2020, Johnson said he’s enjoying being a big fish in Trail’s small pond.
“You just know you’ve got to give 100% all the time,” he said. “There’s a lot of expectation.”