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Thursday, February 11, 2010
Johnson first U.S. NHLer to fulfill dream


Jack Johnson figured that when he's a little old man, retired from his life as a pro hockey player, he might as well be a little old man with memories of walking in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, not a little old man wishing he had.

And so, the boisterous Los Angeles Kings defenseman, who has often marched to the beat of his own drummer (his refusal to leave college early irked Carolina Hurricanes management and led to his trade to the Kings), is set to become what is believed to be the first NHLer to march in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games.

It's not going to be easy, but, heck, that's what makes it so special.

"I had a feeling it wasn't very common, but I had no idea I would be the first," Johnson told ESPN.com this week.

The NHL Players' Association cannot confirm Johnson is the first hockey player to take part in the opening ceremonies, but USA Hockey officials said Johnson will be the first American NHLer to take part in the event. "The stars kind of aligned for me," Johnson said.

This is the first Olympic Games that includes a clause written into an agreement between the NHLPA, NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation that specifically spells out that players are allowed to take part in the opening ceremonies provided there isn't a conflict. Johnson is the only one to actually make it happen.

The opening and closing ceremonies, which will be held at BC Place, are big parts of the Olympic experience, Johnson said. And if the opportunity is there to take part, "why waste it?"

Johnson said the idea first came to him shortly after he was named to the U.S. team on Jan. 1. He looked at the Kings' schedule and Olympic schedule, then looked at a map and decided to go for it.

Johnson and the Kings will play in Edmonton on Thursday night. He asked the Kings if it would be OK to miss practice on Friday to facilitate a quick trip to Vancouver. Coach Terry Murray and the rest of the Kings were supportive in his quest and gave him leave. Johnson contacted USA Hockey about the logistics of taking part in the ceremonies and officials started to work on the itinerary:

• Johnson chartered a plane to make a two-hour flight from Edmonton to Bellingham, Wash.

• A driver will meet him in Bellingham and take him across the border and into Vancouver, eliminating the distinct possibility of getting lost or snarled in traffic.

• If things go according to plan, Johnson will meet USA Hockey officials at about 3 p.m. at the athletes' village with Johnson's USA gear. Johnson will change and jump into the queue with the rest of the American Olympians, who are taking part in the ceremonies. The ceremonies should be completed by 9 p.m. PT.

• Johnson will jump back in his vehicle, drive back to Bellingham and fly home.

• He will join his teammates for their last pre-Olympic game Saturday night in Los Angeles against the Colorado Avalanche before flying back to Vancouver on Sunday. The Americans will have their first on-ice session that day, leading up to Tuesday's tournament-opener against Switzerland.

If you hear the familiar strains of the "Mission Impossible" theme music playing while you're reading this, Johnson insisted he's had nothing but support in trying to make this part of the Olympic dream a reality.

"I've had a lot of people helping me so that it's not 'Mission Impossible,'" he said. "Truthfully, I didn't get any resistance from anyone. Whatever I imagine [the ceremonies to be like] probably isn't going to be close to what it's like for real."