Sometimes we media types need to give up on the story. Try as we might, the athlete just doesn’t feel the way we want in order to grab a good headline or quote. It happens. Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson will return to Columbus as a player for the first time tonight but the player just wasn’t that moved by the experience.
That’s not to say the reporters didn’t try to pry some sentimental feeling from Johnson. They tried. And tried. …and tried.
“No, Pittsburgh is home for me now,” Johnson said. “I’ve got a lot of relationships here in Columbus and was able to come in and have dinner with my family, so that was awesome.”
But not much about the Blue Jackets. Johnson, 31, spent seven seasons with the Blue Jackets including 2011-12 when he was dealt from LA to Columbus, at the trade deadline.
In seven seasons with the cannon folks, Johnson played 445 games and 11 playoff games. But Johnson signed with the Penguins on July 1 and immediately touched off a fiery response from Columbus head coach John Tortorella when he and Penguins GM Jim Rutherford made comments which the Columbus organization didn’t appreciate. Remember that?
“I’ve played almost a full season in Pittsburgh. We played Columbus earlier in the year, so we got that out of the way,” Johnson said.
But the reporters weren’t done. But isn’t this game different because it’s in Columbus?
“No, I mean you look over and see the same faces. They’ve got more guys now that I don’t know, so it makes it less weird but I already played them once,” Johnson dismissed.
Columbus has added a small army over the past week including Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and Adam McQuaid.
You could hear the shrug in Johnson’s voice. But what about being in the visitor’s locker room?
“I’ve been here before,” he chuckled. After a few minutes of homogenous questions, he obviously knew what the reporters were digging for, but he was trying to let them know it wasn’t there.
Ok, what about the reaction he may get from the Columbus fans, “You were fairly beloved here?”
“Oh I don’t know. The biggest thing I take away from time here is the relationships,” Johnson began to acquiesce. “Lifelong relationships. I loved the city here. Started a family here. Everyone from my neighbors to all of the wonderful teammates I had over the years. But the biggest thing is I started a family here.”
How about when Johnson arrived? The Blue Jackets were a fledgling franchise with nary a playoff win and there was talk the franchise was in trouble. Columbus wasn’t in as deep as Arizona, but they were losing money. Does Johnson reminisce about helping to turn the franchise around?
“Uh, yeah. It’s unfortunate it didn’t end well here but I look back and the biggest thing I take away was the relationships with all the awesome teammates over the years,” Johnson said.
Sometimes the story just isn’t the sappy, happy sentimental homecoming. Sometimes, the story is the bruising defenseman is there to do a job and like the Saturday before will be called upon to play out of his skates as his current team is battling for a playoff position and to stave off the end of a Stanley Cup era.
The Penguins can only hope he’s as shutdown tonight when he plays hard minutes against Duchene and Artemi Panarin.
But, sure, Columbus is great, too.