Sometimes it’s not about the accomplishment but the journey that gets you there.
Such is the case for Port Moody’s Lucas Johansen.
A first-round pick (28th overall) of the Washington Capitals in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Johansen’s professional career has been derailed by injuries which caused him to miss almost two seasons along with parts of others.
So when Johansen’s Hershey Bears won the American Hockey League championship last Wednesday in Palm Springs by defeating the Coachella Valley Firebirds 3-2 in overtime of game seven, you knew that it had to mean a lot more to Johansen and his family, which includes his dad Randall, mom Rosalind and older brother Ryan – who has 11 NHL seasons to his credit.
Randall and Rosalind flew to Pennsylvania for games three, four and five, then hopped onto a charter provided by the Bears for family and friends to California for the games six and seven. Ryan was in Scottsdale for former teammate Luke Kunin’s bachelor party and then decided to rent a car and drive to Palm Springs to see the final two games.
They were all on hand for to see Michael Vecchione score off a rebound at 16:19 of overtime to give the Bears the championship after rallying from a 2-0 deficit in game seven.
“To see that that goal go in - I went pretty blank after that - it was it was just really special,” says Lucas.
While Lucas was joining the party on the ice, Ryan was losing it in the stands.
“The funny thing is my wife gets really emotional in games but we were more in control. With Ryan, it was almost like he was out there on the ice with him,” said Randall, whose passion for photography resulted in over 4,300 photos of the last five games. “We’re sitting among the Firebird fans and when we scored the arena went silent. Ryan’s so excited he almost knocks me and my camera into the row ahead of us.”
In fact, Ryan could have been assessed a two-minute minor after the goal.
“When they scored, I just pulled up my arm to celebrate and bam! I hit this woman next to me with my elbow. I still don’t know where I hit her but she was really nice about it. She’s like, “hey, congratulations” after I just smoked her with my elbow and I’m like, “I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” And she’s like “it’s fine. I’m okay,” recalled Ryan.
For Ryan, watching Lucas play in person was extra special but also left him powerless.
“I haven’t seen him play live since he was 17 years old. It’s almost been nine years since I’ve seen him play hockey live. It was like watching a boxing fight. You know, you’re flinching, you’re dodging punches and all that stuff but it was so cool. It’s so hard to put into words,” says Ryan.
With 842 NHL games to his credit, along with 67 post-season games, Ryan had to sit through it all rather than being able to determine his own fate.
“Ryan’s been through playoffs in the NHL and in junior. He’s played in the World Juniors, so he knows what the battle is about and what you have to go through in those close games. Now he’s there watching and he’s pretty much helpless in the stands, but the energy he had was amazing,” says Randall.
For Lucas, it was the reward for persevering through two lost seasons. Hip and neck injuries basically limited him to 14 games during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. Add the pressure and expectations that come with being a first-round pick and you start to understand what this championship means to him and his family.
There’s been a lot of adversity but his family has always been there providing support.
“It’s one of those things that’s really hard to put into words. Lucas is more than a brother to me. We’re best friends. I’ve always tried to help guide him and encourage him and be there for him with all the injuries and then just watching him work to get healthier…I’m so happy and proud of him,” noted Ryan.
“He’s had every reason to quit hockey. He’s had some bad luck but we tried to stay positive. What he went through, his perseverance was amazing. Every summer he worked his tail off and he was ready to go. He wouldn’t even be upset. It was a real special feeling in the end with how all of this worked out,” said Randall.
As for Lucas, winning the Calder Cup is something that he will never forget.
“This game is such a grind and you never know when it can be taken away from you. It was definitely a couple long years there for me but you know, we never lost sight of the prize. The reason you play the game is to win and I’m no different. I just felt really good to get back on track after the last couple years and to win a championship. It’s just something that you always dreamed of and I’m just pumped about it,” said Lucas, who was also part of the Kelowna Rockets WHL championship team in 2015.
As for the support of his family, Lucas can’t say enough.
“All of them have been amazing but especially Ryan in particular. He’s been so supportive. He obviously gets it. He knows how hard it is to win. The night before game seven we went to dinner as a family. He kept saying, ‘You got to do it. You have to win. You’ll have a brotherhood that no one can ever take away from you guys. Get it done.’ He was so fired up,” noted Lucas.
“Then there’s my mom and dad who have obviously been our number one supporters our entire career, so when they came on the ice after the game you could just see the joy on everyone’s face. I remember just giving them a hug and that was a moment that we’ll definitely cherish forever because it was pretty special.”
And as if Lucas winning an AHL championship wasn’t enough to digest, three days later Ryan was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche after eight seasons as a Nashville Predator.
“Spending all those years in Nashville, it wasn’t just about hockey for me. It was really just trying to make a difference. Whether it was shaking a hand, crossing paths with somebody or just doing things in community representing the organization,” says Ryan, who was traded for Alex Galchenyuk.
“It’s got an extremely special place in my heart. I plan to retire there and hopefully start a family in Nashville down the road, but for now, I have an incredible opportunity with a great team in Colorado. At this point in my career to have a chance for that brass ring, it’s pretty darn exciting. I’m looking forward to show my new teammates and the organization that I can help get us back there.”
OVERTIME: The Ryan and Lucas Johansen Celebrity Golf Classic benefitting The Eagle Ridge Hospital Foundation at the Westwood Plateau Golf Course on Wednesday, July 12 and is sold out. However, there are still tickets available for “A Night from Nashville” event with songwriters Eric Van Houten and Heath Warren that takes place on Sunday, July 9th at the Port Moody Inlet Theatre. Tickets can be purchased here.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.