Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jack Johnson (2006-07) attended last week's USA Hockey Olympic Orientation Camp in suburban Chicago. While the team won't be officially chosen until the winter, Johnson felt that he had a productive camp and fit in well with America's best. Also taking part in the camp was fellow U-M alumnus and current Toronto Maple Leaf defenseman Mike Komisarek. In fact, the pair of former Wolverines sat next to each other in the locker room throughout the three-day camp. The real competition for roster spots on Team USA begins with the opening of the NHL season on Oct. 1, something Johnson is eagerly awaiting after an injury-shortened campaign in 2008-09. Originally a member of U-M's class of 2009, Johnson returned to Ann Arbor this summer to continue his pursuit of a degree from the University of Michigan.
MGoBlue.com: What did you think of the Olympic Orientation Camp
Jack Johnson: "I felt great during the camp. I felt likeI had a good camp. It was a good chance to get to know all the guys better. There were only a few guys that I didn't know -- some of the older guys. It was a comfortable situation to walk into just because I've played with a majority of the guys there on other U.S. teams at some point, whether it was from the U.S. National Team Development Program or World Juniors or World Championships. It was fun. The on-ice was a pretty good pace, but I felt like I fit in fine. Now I'm just looking forward to getting the [NHL] season started."
MGoBlue.com: You've played for a variety of U.S. national teams at the Under-18, Under-20 and senior levels, what would becoming an Olympian mean to you
JJ: "To me, that would be the biggest honor in sports. It's bigger than any NHL team or amateur tournament. It's the pinnacle of sport. It's the Olympics -- every country is battling to be the best and it just doesn't get any bigger than that."
MGoBlue.com: What are your earliest Olympic memories
JJ: "The first Olympics I really started to follow were the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. I remember when Michael Johnson wore the gold shoes and broke a couple world records there. That's when I really started to follow the Olympics -- I was about nine-years old then. I realized they were a big deal and I started watching Olympic hockey after that."
MGoBlue.com:Should USA be considered one of the top teams heading into the 2010 Olympic ice hockey tournament
JJ: "Absolutely. We're definitely one of the competitive countries in hockey. Going into the Olympics it's anyone's tournament -- the Swedes are obviously defending champions, but anyone could win it. Just from being at the camp, all 34 or 35 guys who were there expect to win. Everyone is excited."
MGoBlue.com: What do you think of the various reports stating that a number of roster spots are locked up already
JJ: "I know [Team USA general manager] Brian Burke said that there weresome guys in mind, but he hasn't mentioned anyone that I know of. It's just the writers speculating as to who's a lock. Brian Burke made it pretty clear that October 1 is when the real tryouts start. It's pretty wide-open. Not only are the guys at the camp hopefully on the team, but also there are 20 or 40 other guys on the list to be watched. It could be anyone."
MGoBlue.com:What kinds of things did the team do during the three days of camp
JJ:"We skated in the morning each day for about an hour. We went over how the coaches wanted us to play and the mentality that they want going into the tournament. Afterwards, we had media time. Obviously, there were a lot of people that wanted to talk to the players. We had drug-testing meetings, fittings for equipment, we went over setup for the opening and closing ceremonies and we were asked how many tickets we'd like if we were chosen for the team. Tons of meetings that you wouldn't think of that have to get done. We also had a lot of cool team functions. We went to a White Sox game. We had the privilege of listening to some military guys -- two Army Rangers and a Navy S.E.A.L. We got to hang out with them for a few days in the locker room. That was a pretty big honor for us to get to know them. It was pretty quick -- we were only there for three days."
MGoBlue.com: Brian Burke has told the media that he'd like a team that isn't afraid to be physical. Is that exciting for someone like you who enjoys that part of the game
JJ: "Definitely. I think you have to build a team that can play any style in a tournament like this because every country is going to throw something different at you. The team that's best able to adapt I think is going to win this. You have to be able to play up and down with Russia or go into a war with Canada. There are definitely enough Americans out there who can play both styles. That's something I do like to hear. I think I can play [a physical style] or up and down hockey."
MGoBlue.com: Will it be fun to have three other U.S. Olympic Team hopefuls with you on the L.A. Kings roster this season in Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick and Rob Scuderi
JJ: "It will be exciting and that will be in the back of our minds, but our first job is to win hockey games for the Kings. Our focus will be playing for them right now. Obviously, in an ideal situation we'd all like to play for the U.S. team together. Hopefully that will happen. That does add some excitement, but you have to be able to refocus on playing your game for the Kings and hope everything else takes care of itself.
MGoBlue.com:One of your goals away from hockeyhas been to earn your degree from the University of Michigan. How is that endeavorcoming along
JJ:"My plan is ultimately to get a degree from the University of Michigan. I don't have a timeline for myself. I'm not in any race. I was able to take a class this summer, but I had to drop a couple others just because the finals were right during the Olympic Camp and that was kind of a big deal for me. I didn't want to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I didn't get as many classes done this summer as I would have liked to, but again I'm not in any race. I just want to get it done at some point, so when I finish my career I can say I have a degree from the University of Michigan. I'm trying to get some classes done at [the University Southern California] while I'm there and maybe catch a couple football games as well. I just want to keep working on school so I don't end up being the old guy sitting in the classes with all the kids."
MGoBlue.com: Having such a hectic pro schedule, do you still keep tabs on the Michigan hockey team
JJ: "I follow the Michigan hockey team all year. Every Sunday I check the internet to see how the boys did. I talk to pretty much all the guys who were in my class still. I see the coaches all summer long. I'm at the rink quite a bit during the summer. I try to talk to them all the time."