By: Julie Robenhymer
Photo: Lindsay Mogle
Cam Johnson’s first period between the pipes as a professional goaltender did not go as planned.
“It was terrible,” he said with a big laugh as he recalled the four goals he allowed, two of which came 16 seconds apart early in the frame. “I mean…it was terrible. There’s no other way to describe it.”
After spending four years at the University of North Dakota, including one of which he backstopped the Fighting Hawks to a national championship with a 1.66 goals against average and .935 save percentage that season, Johnson signed a one-year, entry-level contract with the New Jersey Devils as a free agent. In addition, he signed a professional tryout agreement to play the remainder of the season with Binghamton and, simply put, his nerves got the best of him in his professional debut.
“I remember during the starting lineups that I thought my knees were going to collapse because I was trembling so much. It was a terrible period. No question. But, Scott Clemmensen came down and talked to me during intermission and he told me not to worry about it and encouraged me to break the game down into smaller chunks and try to win each of those parts of the game by taking it shot by shot,” the 24-year-old from Troy, MI explained. “I went into the rest of that game telling myself I’d have the best two periods of my life. They were pretty decent and then I had a couple decent games after that. Just being able to get rid of those nerves and get my feet wet and adjust to the pro game, it was all really good for me to get that out of the way. I was really happy with the way I played in Binghamton and what I learned while I was there. It was a really good experience.”
Johnson said two things he took away from his couple weeks in Binghamton was the chance to see how the Devils organization operates and being able to form connections with his new teammates.
“They have their core principles and have really been preaching about our team being more of a brotherhood than a neighborhood because do you really know your neighbors or do you just kind of wave at them across the street?,” he asked hypothetically. “Where as in a brotherhood, you’ll do anything for your brother. Whatever they need, they don’t even have to ask. You’ll just do it. That’s the type of team we want to have and seeing how important the core principles are to everyone in the organization from the top down has been really good to see. They’re not just words. Those principles are shown in their actions too and it was a big reason they were able to have success here last year and I know it will be a big reason why we’ll be successful in the future too.”
As far as his new teammates, since he signed as a free agent, he’s only known of them by competing against them in his two years in the USHL and four at North Dakota.
“When I knew I was going to Binghamton, I saw Tariq Hammond had just signed there too and I was like, ‘Oh great, Denver’s captain,’ because I did not like playing against him the past four years, but hockey players are cool dudes and I’ll be happy to go to battle with him this year. He’s no longer my rival. He’s one of my brothers,” Johnson explained.
“Between him and Joey Anderson at Minnesota-Duluth, we all know who each other are and, a couple months ago, I’m sure we didn’t like each other because we’ve just been battling the last few years against each other,” he continued. “So, it’s been really nice to get to shake their hands and get to know them outside of how much of a pain in the butt they are on the ice because as good as they are at hockey, they’re just as good people. It will be great to have them on my side and be there teammate now. We’re all here for the same reason. We love the sport and we’re lucky to be able to call it our job now.”
Interestingly enough, all three have won national championships – Johnson and North Dakota in 2016, Hammond and Denver in 2017 and Anderson and Minnesota Duluth this past April.
Johnson’s final take away from his stint with Binghamton and his first development camp with the Devils last month was that he’s not in college any more.
“In a lot of the meetings we’ve had so far, they expect you to be a pro,” he stated. “They treat you 100 percent like a pro. They’re not following you around making sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. They just expect you to do it and do it really well. It’s been fun trying to figure it all out and find my way in this new atmosphere because it’s the same, but also really different.”
As he prepares for his first training camp, Johnson has been focused on fine-tuning his game and working hard to be in the best shape of his life.
“I’m trying to simplify my game, which is weird because my game is pretty simple to begin with,” he explained. “I want to be light on my feet and keeping my eyes on the puck and a bunch of other goalie-isms, but you don’t always have the chance to work on those little details during the season so you have to take advantage of being able to do it in the summer and really fine-tune your game. So that’s been a big focus of mine. The other is conditioning.
“I knew this before, but they really hit it home during development camp. You can not show up to camp out of shape,” he continued emphatically. “It’s just not acceptable. If you’re a bit sluggish, there’s someone else who will have taken this opportunity seriously and he’s going to make the team or earn those minutes instead of you. So, that’s what I’ve been working on this summer – the details and being in the best shape I can be for camp. If an opportunity presents itself, I want to make sure I’m ready to grab it.”
With Cory Schneider’s status in question after off-season surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left hip, the starting job in Binghamton could be up for grabs and possibly a shot at the backup position in New Jersey.
“Who knows? Maybe I’ll be that guy that comes out of nowhere to make the team, but I’ve never done this before so I’m just trying to work hard, learn as much as I can, takeaway as much as I can, talk to other guys who have been through it and just be as prepared as I can,” Johnson said. “You can really just never be satisfied. You have to constantly be pushing yourself and asking for just that little bit more.
“There are a lot of people that would kill to be in my shoes,” he continued. “I recognize that there are a lot of guys who aren’t able to step into an opportunity like this and that’s something that drives me in the summer to continue to work hard and get better because this is an amazing opportunity and I would be dumb to let it slip away from me.”
The Devils will open up the 2018-19 season at home on Saturday, October 6 at 7:05 p.m. against the Toronto Marlies.
For more information, including pricing, benefits, and much more, visit the Devils website at binghamtondevils.com or call the Devils front office at 607-722-7367.
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