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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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The pandemic cost Owen Power and Kent Johnson a shot at World Junior gold, but it also may have opened the door for an opportunity at Olympic glory.

With National Hockey League players no longer heading to Beijing, the Michigan Wolverine teammates are among those in consideration to play for Hockey Canada next month. 

"It'd be something that'd be extremely special," said Power, a defenceman who was picked first overall by the Buffalo Sabres at the 2021 NHL draft. "It's obviously something I'd love to do. I'm hopeful I'll make the team." 

"It'd be so special," agreed Johnson, a forward who was picked fifth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in July. "If selected, it'd be awesome to go." 

During a joint interview with TSN, Power and Johnson spoke about the Olympic opportunity, what they'll remember most about the abbreviated World Juniors in Edmonton, and how they deal with the uncertainty of pandemic life. 

What would it be like to go to China for the Olympics? 

Power: "It'd be something that'd be pretty cool. They would have restrictions in place to prevent us from [getting] COVID, but just being there with all the athletes from all the countries would definitely be something that's really cool."

Johnson: "I've heard that the Olympic experience is the best. I don't know completely what it would be like this year, but I think it'd still be awesome. It'd be a really cool experience."

What's your favourite Olympic memory?

Johnson: "It's pretty easy: The [Sidney] Crosby goal. I'm from Vancouver. I didn't go to that game, but I was at a game earlier in that tournament against Switzerland. The Vancouver Olympics were really exciting for me." 

Power: "Mine is the exact same. I think the golden goal by Crosby. That's probably everyone's favourite moment." 

Where were you that day? 

Power: "I actually missed the goal. We saw parts of the game, but we had practice. I remember being at the rink and before we got on, we were watching. We went on and practised and after practice everyone was freaking out about the goal, obviously, and Canada winning." 

What was it like being at a game? 

Johnson: "It was so cool. They got the win in a shootout. I remember that [Jonas] Hiller was unreal for Switzerland. The atmosphere at an Olympic game – country on country, best on best – it was just something else." 

Peterborough Petes centre Mason McTavish, who was with you guys at the World Juniors, is also in the mix to play at the Olympics. What impression did he make on you?

Power: "He really impressed me. He wasn't someone I had ever really seen play or played against. How big and strong he is and how well he can move and, obviously, he's really skilled. He seemed like the whole package." 

Johnson: "Loved playing with him. In the corners, he wins pretty much every battle and he won almost every faceoff. He's really skilled too, so it's not just that. He has a great scoring touch around the net and can make plays all through the ice. It was awesome." 

 

Has it sunk in yet, how the World Juniors ended?  

Johnson: "It's sunk in. It's horrible, but I also think that now it's all about perspective. We're back here and with our teammates in Michigan, so it's not too sad or anything. We're just kind of excited for games this weekend here. It's been good to be back and see everyone." 

Did you have any sense that was coming? 

Power: "Yeah, I mean, a little bit. You saw the first cases come up in the tournament and you kind of got that thought in the back of your head. When we got called down for the meeting it was actually the same text we got when we got when we shut down last year in Michigan. As soon as we got that I had a pretty good feeling that the tournament was going to be over." 

What was the last night in Edmonton like? 

Johnson: "It was weird. It was kind of just trying to hang out with the guys and all the staff and trying to make the best out of a bad situation, I guess. Just enjoying each other’s company ... a little bit of a sad tone. There are some great people you met there, so it was just nice to enjoy that last night. 

Power: "It was tough. It's a roller coaster. We were getting ready for a game and pretty excited to play and then getting that news that the tournament's cancelled. It was definitely tough for myself, and I think everyone." 

If the tournament gets played, do you think Canada wins gold? 

Johnson: "Being in the room and with the team we had, we had a lot of confidence. Obviously, yeah, I think so. But at the same time, I don't want to be that guy who's just saying, 'We would've 100 per cent won it.' Like, it's a sport and you got to respect your opponents too. I'm sure some teams feel that way as well. But obviously, I have a lot of confidence." 

Power: "We looked really good in the first two games, and I thought we were just going to continue to get better. I was excited and, like Kent said, had a lot of confidence in the group."

What will you remember most about being part of Canada's national junior team? 

Johnson: "How good the guys were to me when I joined late [after a COVID quarantine] and how after two days it really felt like I was just as close with all the guys even though they had been there for a week and a half longer."

Power: "Playing the games was pretty special. Playing with all the guys coming from all different parts of the country, I think that was pretty special. I made some friends that will last a long time ... One guy was Donovan Sebrango. I didn't really know him going in and we got pretty close as the tournament went on. He's someone I didn't know that well and got to know just being with him." 

What moment will stick with you moving forward? 

Johnson: "I think scoring a goal. Obviously, I only had one in the World Juniors, so I'll probably remember that forever." 

How do you deal with the uncertainty of pandemic life? 

Johnson: "It's crazy. Now I've had three hockey events cancelled. I feel like it's been getting easier. It's [about] trying to stay in the moment and not look too far ahead. Every day you're playing hockey and every game, you don't take anything for granted. The first year at Michigan I was so excited about the first game we got to play, because we didn't know if we'd get to play at all. When we were testing negative, it was a sigh of relief every game. So, don't take it for granted." 

Are you watching the news at all? 

Power: "I try not to really follow the news. I think it's a lot of negativity, so I don't think it's great to look at. I take it day by day. Anything could change pretty much within the hour it seems. So, for me, I try and live in the present and not look too far forward, because it seems like anything can happen right now." 

Connor Bedard scored four goals in what became your final World Juniors game. Then he had four goals in his first game back in the Western Hockey League with Regina. I take it you weren't surprised?

Johnson: "That was unreal. They were all really good shots too, so it was pretty cool to watch. I think at the start of the year he was probably a little snakebitten. He wasn't scoring as much as normal, so it kind of made sense that he broke out there and in the WHL too." 

Power: "He's a real special talent. I thought he was unbelievable in all the games and really impressed me and everyone by just showing how well he can play even though he's one of the younger kids."

Owen, what's your perspective on how Kent has handled this season? What stands out?

Power: "Just his work ethic and attitude. You saw it, especially with COVID. I think he handled that real well and was real positive about it. He did whatever he could to stay in shape and be ready for the World Juniors while he was in quarantine. I think that's pretty impressive." 

Kent, what's impressed you about Owen's season? 

Johnson: "Just daily his work ethic and then there's what he can do in games like against the Czech Republic [scoring three goals]. And just being a good friend and being there for me when I had COVID. He was talking to me when he was at camp, and I was by myself. So, that was really nice of him."