All's Well That Ends Well
Late Bloomer Johnston Leads Bulldogs Into Frozen Four
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
In his 1623 play "All's Well That Ends Well," William Shakespeare wrote, "Oft expectation fails, and most oft where most it promises; and oft it hits where hope is coldest; and despair most sits."
That is, in more modern terms, high expectations are often difficult to meet, but there's pleasant surprise in satisfying lower ones.
For Ferris State senior forward Jordie Johnston, expectations were decidedly high — sky high — when he arrived in Big Rapids for his freshman season. The Rosetown, Sask., native had previously played three seasons for the La Ronge Ice Wolves of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) and was named the 2007-08 SJHL Player of the Year. That year, he compiled a league-high 88 points — 35 goals, 53 assists — in just 58 games.
But the goals in Saskatchewan did not translate to goals in NCAA play. Through three seasons for Ferris State, Johnston scored 10 goals in 93 games — a far cry from 2008, when he finished as a runner-up for the Canadian Junior A Player of the Year honors.
That is, of course, until this year — his senior campaign — during which Johnston has scored 20 goals and added 16 assists to lead the Bulldogs in scoring.
"It takes time for [players] to learn the system and play the way we like them to play, but it was somewhat confounding — I always expected this even sooner for Jordie," admitted Ferris State coach Bob Daniels. "At places like ours where our players do stay for four years, for the most part, at times kids have to wait for their opportunity as players leave and roles become open.
"So part of this was, in some respects, maybe my fault for not putting Jordie in certain roles early in his career. I can take some blame for that, certainly. And part of it was Jordie taking a while to figure it out."
Of late, Johnston has more than figured it out, and to borrow a quote from another classic writer — this time, Mark Twain — "a thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes."
Johnston has scored in three consecutive games heading into Thursday's NCAA Frozen Four, and of course no goal was larger than last Saturday's dramatic third period game-winner against Cornell — the eventual difference in a 2-1 game. On the goal, Johnston took a pass from sophomore right winger Andy Huff as the pair skated in on a 2-on-1.
Johnston held the puck for a second and then, with a Frozen Four berth on his stick, fired it over a sprawling Andy Iles for a landmark goal in Ferris State's hockey history.
Perhaps just as notable as the goal itself, certainly, was the context in which it was scored. Johnston's game winner came just seconds after the Bulldogs killed off the entirety of a five minute major power play — awarded to Cornell after freshman T.J. Schlueter was ejected from the contest for a checking from behind penalty.
"I felt great being able to score that goal knowing that T.J. felt awful after that happened," said Johnston. "Being able to score and relieve some of the stress on him felt great for me. He came and said as much to me after the game. Going forward, I know he's going to pay someone else back, and he's going to make a huge play the next chance he gets.
"We've had each other's back all year. We're family. That's what makes us special. We'll do anything for each other. We've always had that mentality."
Johnston was named to the All-CCHA Second Team this season. As a senior, he has also evolved as a leader — a quality much-appreciated by junior Kyle Bonis, who is second on the team in goal scoring behind Johnston.
"He's been a great teammate and someone I've been lucky enough to learn from over my career," said Bonis. "For him to have a year like this has come as no surprise to anyone in the locker room. The guy works harder than anyone on the ice. Even with all the goals he's scored, he is still on the ice after practice, taking one-timers and things like that. He's always been a great teammate and a great leader, and he always sets a great example for the younger guys."
Now, Johnston leads the Bulldogs into Thursday's NCAA semifinal showdown with Union. Thanks in large part to the senior forward's rediscovered offensive prowess, Ferris State arrives in Tampa with a 25-11-5 record, the third-best record in program history. Indeed, the word "expectation" is being redefined for Ferris State on a weekly basis.
And redefined for Johnston too, as the senior hopes — with the national championship on the line this weekend — that, indeed, all's well that ends well.