Stephen Johns was an NHL player who never left Rockford. That experience is something he’s using as motivation.
Last Monday, Johns was recalled by the Blackhawks. But instead of making his NHL debut, he was assigned back to the IceHogs a day later as part of what he figured was a “business transaction.”
“You have to realize it’s part of the business and, you know, it happens,” Johns said Sunday. “Unfortunately, it kind of got my hopes up a little bit but it makes me more motivated to work harder and be up there for good.”
Johns seems to be taking the up-and-down incident in stride. Beyond calling it a weird experience, he recalled the playful ribbing he got from his teammates, who welcomed him back to the IceHogs with stick-taps.
Those stick-taps the end of a murky few hours for Johns. He said his agent told him to be prepared to leave and join the Blackhawks but that he’d probably be sent down. The Hawks also gave him some idea of what was happening, though not a huge idea.
“They did a little bit but as a player you’re always thinking ‘Oh, I’m going to play’ and stuff like that,” Johns said. “Obviously, it didn’t work out but it makes me work harder.”
That hard work will be needed for Johns to stand out on a deep and talented IceHogs blue line. Even with Adam Clendening in the NHL, the IceHogs still have a solid corps of defensemen that includes Johns, T.J. Brennan, Ville Pokka and Klas Dahlbeck.
It’s a group Johns compared to the unit he played with at the 2012 World Junior Championships, and one that has a lot of players ably competing for the rare shot in Chicago.
“You put any guy out in any situation hopefully we’ll be successful but I feel like the coaches have confidence in all of us to make plays,” Johns said. “It shows, they put different guys out in different situations to give us all a chance to show what we got. It’s fun playing with the guys. We’re all good friends and we have fun, too.”
IceHogs coach Ted Dent said Johns is playing well and has been “consistent for much of the year.”
“He’s had a couple of games where maybe he fought the puck a little bit. But he’s been physical, he’s gotten into a few tussles,” Dent said. “You know he’s been on the penalty kill. He’s actually had some power-play time earlier in the year. So, he’s coming along fine.”
Johns said he’s trying to be more sound, make simple plays, be tougher around the net, and just be more confident. That will come eventually, especially as he adjusts more to the longer professional season after playing at Notre Dame.
“Ups and downs happen during the season,” Johns said. “I’m kind of just starting to finally adjust to that and realize that. Just stick with it and hopefully it will come soon enough.”
Ups and downs are already something Johns knows how to handle.