March 3, 2015
Eric Johnson has made an impact for the University of Notre Dame hockey team with a hockey stick in his hands.
He’s also made an impact for the Fighting Irish with a nail and hammer in his hands, framing the walls of a Habitat for Humanity build.
Johnson, a senior defenseman, returned to action this past weekend for senior night. Although injuries have kept the senior from Verona, Wisconsin, from most of his senior season, he returned in time to don a green jersey and step on to the Compton Family Ice Arena ice Saturday for senior night and a critical series against ninth-ranked Boston College.
Johnson and the Irish wrapped up the regular season with a 3-1 victory against the Eagles, continuing a wave of momentum for the Hockey East playoffs.
Notre Dame now plays host to the first round, a best-of-three series that starts Friday versus #12 seed Massachusetts. The puck hits the ice at 7:35 pm. EST Friday. Saturday’s start is set for 7:05 p.m. If Sunday’s game is necessary, the start is slated for 7:05 p.m.
Tickets for Hockey East playoff action at Notre Dame are available for purchase online at UND.com/BuyTickets, by phone by calling 574-631-7356, or in person at the Murnane Family Ticket Office in the front lobby of Purcell Pavilion during regular business hours (Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. EST).
Johnson has embraced the five pillars philosophy created by University of Notre Dame vice president and athletics director Jack Swarbrick–excellence, community, education, faith and tradition.
In the field of service, Johnson has taken the lead for the Irish hockey team, spearheading the club’s efforts to partner with the community. He sets up events for the Irish, not just handling the logistics, but also getting to the heart of service and guiding the players in their activities.
“It’s really important to our team, to Notre Dame as a whole and to the community, based on the fact we go to this great school,” Johnson said of service.
Johnson organizes at least one service project a week for Irish hockey players during the summer and pre-season. Projects can range from teaching youngsters about hockey and fitness–to Habitat for Humanity construction.
“Eric is a genuine service guy,” said Irish teammate Justin Wade. “He’s always lending his abilities, lending his time to others. That’s part of his character. It’s natural.”
Johnson’s brother, Michael, was a goaltender for the Irish hockey team who also carved out a path that embraced the full Notre Dame experience.
“Michael was the same way,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said of Eric being a high-character person. “Eric is somebody you’d be proud to call your son, he’s that quality of a person. He’s strong in character and makes good choices on the ice and off the ice. He actually feels a sense of service. Part of that is that he appreciates the opportunity he’s had here. He feels it’s important to give back to the community. He’s been very involved with that, helping our team. He’s strong in that area.”
Eric Johnson said his Notre Dame experience has been deeply meaningful.
“My brother was here for two years before I got here,” Johnson said. “I was fortunate to play two years with him. Notre Dame is really family-oriented for me. Even though he has left, there is still a family feeling, whether it’s my dorm buddies, people I meet through classes, even professors who I stay in touch with. It’s a very tight community. Everyone is so supportive and, especially with the hockey team, it feels like family. I plan on keeping in touch with a wide range of people when I leave here.”
Hockey has been a special bond for the Johnson brothers.
“My hockey relationship with my brother was cooperation, it was competitive . . . it depended on the week or the month,” Johnson said with a laugh. “We were competitors since day one, since I was born, when I was taking the attention. Mike would get upset about that.
“Ever since I remember, we were competing, but also, ever since I can remember, we were helping each other out. We were always really supportive of each other. When Mike went to play junior hockey and when he came here, I was keeping up with him, getting the scores, congratulating him, encouraging him. He does the exact same thing for me.
“He is my older brother, so he will give me a hard time. He’ll let me know if I mess up, but it’s been very beneficial to have him as an older brother.”
Whether it was hockey on the ice, in the street or in the living room, the Johnson brothers didn’t ease up.
“When we were younger, street hockey could get a little heated,” Eric Johnson said. “There were some bruises. There were times when there was too much stick, or a puck shot that was too high. We might have broken a few doors, some things our mother doesn’t know about. But if it wasn’t for her, we would not have the opportunity to play hockey here. She supported us, through thick and thin.”
Wade said Johnson will give the Irish a lift as they enter the playoffs.
“Eric is a really reliable defenseman,” Wade said. “I love playing with him because I know I won’t have to sit back and cover his mistakes. We feed off each other real well. We understand each other’s play style. We’ve gelled together really well. He’s a stay-at-home defenseman. I’m a stay-at-home defenseman. If you have two of them, that makes life simple. Get the puck, move it out.”
Although Johnson was out of action for about half of the season, he still helped the young Irish grow up.
“The side of (Johnson) most people know is his respect and caring–and the love he has for his teammates,” Wade said. “He’s always the first one to offer to help when one of his teammates needs help. It’s extremely important to have a guy like Eric, especially with such a young team.
“There’s a lot of pressure on a young team, when guys are trying to figure out what’s going on and you’re trying to find a leader on the team for guidance. Eric is that guy who can help them through their tough times and give them advice.”
Johnson has always been a team first player.
“If they want me filling water bottles, that’s what I’ll do to help the team,” Johnson said. “If they want me out there killing penalties, I take pride in that.
“I’ll do whatever I can for this team. When things aren’t going well for me, I get support from guys left and right. The coaches here are really supportive. They help you through a lot of the hard times. Our trainers, our doctors, they really come through for us and take care of us. They do anything to get us back on the ice.”
Johnson said despite numerous injuries he never thought about leaving the game.
“That’s not part of my character, not part of my demeanor,” Johnson said. “There’s not much time in your life to feel sorry for yourself. You wake up each day, and it’s a blessing. Each day I come here with a smile on my face and ready to work. I take whatever punches are thrown.”
And fortunately for the Irish, Johnson punches back even harder, a valuable trait if adversity strikes in the playoffs.
— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent