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Hockey: Johnson steps up his game

Chris Allen | Thursday, October 7, 2010

When he stepped onto campus as a freshman in 2009, sophomore goaltender Mike Johnson had the benefit of three upperclassmen at the position to ease his transition to the college game.

There is no such cushion this season for Johnson, as he leads a trio of young Irish goalkeepers into the 2010-11 season with Johnson projected as the initial starter between the pipes. The role of leader might not be too common for a sophomore — but Johnson is comfortable with it.

“We’ve got [freshmen] Steve Summerhays and Joey Rogers here, and they’re pushing me every day,” Johnson said. “It’s a really good situation we have, and all three of us continue to push each other. I’ve tried to keep the same mentality and keep working hard, just doing my best every day.”

The sophomore is no stranger to the starting role, despite the fact that the Irish had two juniors and one senior goalkeeper on the roster last season. Johnson took over midway through the year as the starter and posted a 10-13-5 record with a 2.60 goals against average in 28 starts. Johnson said his experience being thrown into the starting role as a freshman serves him better as he starts off his sophomore campaign.

“I’m feeling comfortable in there. I think the game is kind of slowing down for me, seeing things and making reads and things,” Johnson said. “My strength physically has improved a lot too. I think the game is just slowing down a lot for me, which helps a lot.”

Johnson’s mettle as the man in goal will be tested immediately this weekend as the Irish head to St. Louis to take part in the season-opening Warrior College Hockey Ice Breaker Tournament, where they are scheduled to take on Holy Cross in the opening game Friday and face either Boston University or Wisconsin on Sunday. Johnson will have some help against the three powerhouses, however, as Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said he would try to get Summerhays a start over the weekend after he did not dress for the recent scrimmage against the University of Guelph.

“[Summerhays] is a little bigger, just as athletic. He just has be a little bit more consistent with his play,” Jackson said. “I just want him not to give up squeakers, goals that go through him. He’s got to get a little tighter with his stance, especially on recovery. I think Steven’s got great potential, but he’s just got to keep working on certain parts of his game.”

Though the Irish are young in goal, the preparation that Johnson as well as the two freshmen are putting in during practice has Jackson, a former goalkeeper in his playing days, confident in his options between the pipes.

“I think that last year [Johnson] proved he could play at this level,” Jackson said. “Now it’s a matter of him being consistent to show that he can be consistently good to be a No. 1 guy. But he’s going to have pretty intense competition in my opinion with Summerhays.”

Johnson and the rest of the Irish squad will get underway Friday against Holy Cross at Scottrade Arena in St. Louis at 5:30 p.m.