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Ryan Johnston follows family’s athletic footsteps

Not all of the offspring of Bob and Colleen Johnston will necessarily enjoy Olympic glory, but it’s a safe bet that athletic genetics run deep within the south-end siblings.
Not all of the offspring of Bob and Colleen Johnston will necessarily enjoy Olympic glory, but it’s a safe bet that athletic genetics run deep within the south-end siblings.

Katie, 25, led the way, heading to Harvard and playing both varsity soccer and hockey. Sarah, 24, would be to trailblazer for the Cornell Big Red, suiting up with the school’s hockey team. Jacob, 22, and Rebecca, 21, followed the path to Cornell, though the eldest of boys is now a proud member of the Dalhousie Tigers. Last year, Rebecca won a gold medal with Canada’s women’s hockey team at the winter Olympics.

So it comes as little surprise that Ryan Johnston, 18, has stayed true to the family tradition, committing to the NCAA Colgate Raiders hockey team for the fall of 2012.

Steven, 16, the youngest of the six children in the family, continues to develop with the Sudbury Nickel Capital Midget AAA Wolves, as the team prepares for the upcoming Great North Midget League playoffs.

As for Ryan, his decision to travel to the picturesque New York state campus, located about 45 minutes south east of Syracuse, caps off an interesting few years in his hockey career, after being drafted by the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers in May 2008.

Fresh off a Telus Cup championship season with the Nickel Capital Wolves, Johnston opted to return for a second year, before heading off to join the Elmira Sugar Kings (Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League) for the 2009-2010 campaign.

“I thought things went really well,” Johnston said, spending a little time at home in Sudbury recently. “It’s a little quicker, but I didn’t find the jump too bad. It might be a little more physical (than midget AAA), but I had started growing.”

Johnston, a tenth-round OHL pick and a smooth-skating, puck moving defenseman, constantly worked to better himself last year, eyeing a spot with the Rangers’ blueline corps.

“I found my skating really improved, because I had to use my speed on every shift. And playing with my head up, because there was obviously some big guys – and you need to make decisions that much quicker.”

In September, Johnston enjoyed, by all accounts, a solid training camp. However, after failing to crack the Rangers’ roster, Johnston returned to Sudbury to survey his options. He had little time to ponder his disappointment before another opportunity came calling.

Based on summer-time conversations, he knew that both the Kingston Voyageurs and Nepean Raiders shared an interest in his particular skill set.

“The Nepean coach (Peter Goulet) drove through the night to arrive in Sudbury at something like 2:30 a.m., slept in his car and met with my dad and I at 7:30 a.m.,” Johnston explained. “He showed that he’s a really dedicated coach and wanted the best for his team, so that really got me going.”

Goulet had seen plenty of Johnston through the Telus Cup championship run and he jumped at the chance to lure the blueliner to Nepean.

With his sights now set on landing an NCAA scholarship, things were starting to fall nicely into place for Johnston.

Currently fifth in team scoring on a squad that is tied for fifth in the 12-team Central Junior Hockey League loop, Johnston has attracted some attention from the post-secondary level.

“About a month into the season, I started talking seriously to a couple of NCAA teams,” he said.

Whittled down to the final two, the young prospect was left with both Colgate and Clarkson on his post-secondary priority list. “It was a really tough decision, but academically, I found it a little better fit with Colgate,” Johnston said.

Both the young athlete and the school agreed that the ideal timing to start his NCAA career would be the fall of 2012.

The Raiders should graduate four of their seven defensemen in 2013, opening the door for others to step up. “If I play well, it gives me a chance to be a top defenseman on the team in just my second year, which would be really good,” Johnston said.

Having signed his early commitment letter in November, Johnston can now focus on the simple reality of maturing physically. “I think I still need another year to develop, to get some meat on me and some strength.”

The added bonus — that’s one extra year to tap into the experience of his elder siblings, from a family that has travelled this route before.

Randy Pascal is the founder of and a contributing sports editor for Northern Life.