BROSSARD, Que. — Hockey courses through the veins of the Johnston siblings from Sudbury, ON.
There’s Kathleen, who scored 86 points in 131 games for Harvard University. There’s Sarah, who played for Cornell University. Steven, the baby of the family, and Jacob both played for the Dalhousie Tigers of the CIS.
There’s Ryan, 24, who will play his first NHL game for the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday after signing a two-year contract last summer following his junior year at Colgate University.
“Rebecca’s the most accomplished player of the six siblings, and she always will be,” said Ryan just hours before becoming the only one to suit up for an NHL game.
Ryan has no problem admitting his sister set the gold standard for the family, both literally and figuratively. Rebecca, 26, put up 188 points in 118 games with Cornell’s Big Red, is an Olympic gold medalist twice over, a world champion and a Canadian Women’s Hockey League champion.
On Monday night, Rebecca was chasing gold again — this time at the World Championship in Kamloops, B.C., where she and her Team Canada mates had to settle for silver after losing 1-0 in overtime to the United States.
“I was watching, but I texted Rebecca this morning to let her know I needed to get to bed by about 11:00pm [EST],” said Ryan. “I was a little heartbroken when I found out they lost, but I know she understands I had some big things to focus on here.”
Rebecca laments the fact that she can’t be with her parents, siblings and in-laws to see Ryan face off against Jaromir Jagr and the Florida Panthers, but she’ll be watching.
“It’s unbelievable. Obviously I would love to be there and be able to support him and see his first game,” Rebecca told Sportsnet. “It’s really exciting and a great accomplishment for him. Hopefully there will be more games in the future so I can go see him play.”
It wasn’t anticipated Ryan would make his debut with the Canadiens this season, especially after a herniated disc in his back stopped him in his tracks at the team’s September training camp. Surgery kept him from making his professional debut with the St. John’s IceCaps of the American Hockey League until January rolled around.
Ryan put up assists in three of his first four games with St. John’s and added five assists in his next 30 before being called to Montreal.
“I think he dealt with the adversity really well,” said Rebecca. “I talked to him quite often about how he was doing.”
Rebecca had faced her share of hardship, too. She had led the CWHL in scoring last season but didn’t suit back up until Feb. 13 this season.
“I couldn’t play for the majority of the season with some ligament issues in my back and my hip,” said Rebecca. “Ryan and I helped each other out just being able to talk to each other about it, reminding each other to take things one day at a time.”
She went through a grueling rehab but appeared to have not missed a beat when she finally returned. It was in March that Rebecca quickly found her stride before eventually helping the Calgary Inferno upset the Montreal Canadiennes for the Clarkson Cup.
Meanwhile, Ryan was learning the ropes in the AHL. Had it not been for injuries to four of Montreal’s regular defencemen and a couple more to call-ups Victor Bartley and Brett Lernout, he probably wouldn’t have gotten this chance. Ryan will become the 15th defenceman to dress in a game for the Canadiens this season. He admitted Tuesday that he’s both excited and anxious for the occasion.
“I would just tell him to have fun and not think about it too much,” said Rebecca. “Enjoy the moment. I know from previous experience that it’s just important to focus on the little things and not think too much of the big picture. You don’t want to get overly excited about the game. You want to stay even keel.”