This feature on ice hockey standout Allison Johanson appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in June 2005.
Chasing a goal …
By Ed Odeven
As a seventh-grader, Allison Johanson excelled while playing for a Flagstaff peewee hockey team, finishing second on the club in goals and first in penalty minutes.
It was a boys squad.
Thinking back to those days, Johanson’s mom, Leslee, had this to say:
“I knew I didn’t want to watch her play with the boys one more year.”
She didn’t. She made the life-altering decision to leave her hometown and attend Shattuck-Saint Mary’s, a prep school, in Faribault, Minn.
Five years later, Johanson is armed with a high school diploma (the big day was May 28) and an endless supply of memories.
Shattuck-Saint Mary’s captured its first-ever girls national championship in early April at the USA Hockey U19 National Tournament in Centennial, Colo. The Sabres finished the season with a 51-3-8 record.
A hard-nosed right wing, Johanson wracked up 16 penalty minutes during SSM’s six games at nationals and earned the tourney’s Fastest Skater Award during the skills competition. She finished the season with 19 goals and 24 assists.
In retrospect, her parents are awfully proud of their daughter’s commitment to achieve academic (she’s an honor roll student) and athletic excellence hundreds of miles from home.
“To do what she did in eighth grade and know that’s what she wanted to do (and) to follow through with it (is impressive,” Leslee Johanson said during a lunchtime interview Thursday. “That takes a lot for a kid to do that, to make that decision at 12 years old.”
And Johanson is glad she did.
“Working these last five years and winning the national championship is what I went to Shattuck to do,” Johanson said. “So, finally, after five years the hard work has paid off. To win the national title was probably the most rewarding thing.”
The Sabres’ team chemistry was special, Johanson said, calling it one of the biggest factors in the title run.
“The fact that everyone got along so well was unimaginable,” she added.
Johanson was an assistant captain as a senior and one of the young team’s top vocal leaders.
Leslee Johanson said, “From the perspective of hearing other parents and other kids, she was definitely a team leader. If the team would get down, she was the one that got them back up and got them right back in the game and (say), ‘Come on, we’re not going to lose this.'”
Johanson downplayed her leadership role.
“It’s not like we needed a lot of encouragement,” she said. “We only lost three games this year, so it wasn’t like we were down a lot.”
Which was greatly due to the team’s strong depth. Sabres head coach Gordie Stafford regularly used four lines — other teams have two or three strong lines. Excellent conditioning was also a factor: SSM practiced every morning at 7:30 for the first two periods of the school day (regular classes began afterward).
Now, Johanson is preparing for the next stage of her life: College.
She signed a letter of intent to play hockey at Bemidji State (Minn.) University next fall. In doing so, Johanson is the first Flagstaff native, male or female, to earn a Division I hockey scholarship.
“Of course it’s special,” Johanson said. “It’s amazing to be the first one out of Flag, but you have to think that I go to school with kids … there are 61 graduating kids in my class, and I guarantee you 40 of them have D-I scholarships somewhere.”
Ex-SSM defenseman Brooke Collins, for instance, also will attend Bemidji State in the fall.
Bemidji State is a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, a top-notch league which includes two-time reigning NCAA champion Minnesota, North Dakota and Ohio State.
So what does Bemidji State coach Bruce Olson expect from Johanson over the next four years?
“Allison is a strong, powerful forward that will help us gain some much-needed size up front,” Olson said in a press release. “She will be counted on to play against some of the bigger lines in the WCHA. Allison has the ability to improve into a forward that will make plays in all aspects of the college hockey game.”
And if you ask Johanson, she’ll tell you she’s ready for the challenge.
“It’s going to be like Shattuck,” said Johanson, who attracted the attention of dozens of college hockey recruiters, including Boston College, Vermont, New Hampshire and Dartmouth. “That’s what you’re doing there: Playing hockey at a much higher level; but it’s going to be different. It’s going to be fun.”
Johanson recently participated in the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team tryouts in St. Paul, Minn. In mid-July she’ll find out if she’s been invited to the team’s final tryouts this summer in Lake Place, N.Y. Players from this group will represent the United States at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.
“U.S. women’s hockey head coach) Ben Smith called my coach (SSM’s Stafford) after the tryouts and asked more about me,” Johanson said.