It’s been a challenging 18 months for Canadian forward Rebecca Johnston.
Last spring, the Sudbury, Ont., native was a surprise omission from Canada’s roster ahead of the 2020 Women's World Hockey Championship, which was ultimately cancelled because of the pandemic. A few months later, she injured her Achilles while training. She also had to manage the uncertainty of the women’s hockey calendar.
Now, Johnston is back in Calgary with Canada’s centralization roster for a development camp ahead of the rescheduled worlds. There are a handful of roster spots up for grabs. Cuts are expected on Thursday, with the tournament running later this month in Calgary.
“I’ve taken it and tried to make it a positive and I’ve come back stronger,” Johnston said last week. “I’ve tried to learn from areas I think I can improve and get better.”
Johnston, 31, has enjoyed a decorated international career. The former Cornell Big Red star made her debut with the Canadian national team in 2007 as a teenager. She’s since been a part of several medal-winning Canadian teams, including two golds at the Olympics and one trip to the top of the podium at worlds. At the last World Championship in 2019, Johnston had three goals in seven games in helping Canada to a bronze medal.
Many fans were stunned to see Johnston not named to the 2020 team.
“Those conversations are always so tough to have,” said Gina Kingsbury, the director of Canada’s women’s national team, in May.
“We have to name 23 players for certain rosters and at that moment in time, we felt that we wanted to name 23 other players. Obviously very disappointing for her. We had a good conversation and continued those conversations.”
Whenever a player is cut, Kingsbury and the coaching staff try to give them feedback.
“There’s definitely a rationale and things that are being discussed with the athlete,” Kingsbury said. “We try not to leave them in the dark and be as transparent as possible on areas we think they can improve in, where we need them to be, and what we expect.”
Johnston took initiative and had several conversations with head coach Troy Ryan about areas for growth.
“She took full advantage of that open-door policy,” Kingsbury said. “It’s definitely a great sign of ownership and certainly a commitment to making some adjustments that were needed so she gets back on track. We’re really proud of how she’s responded for sure.”
Kingsbury is impressed with Johnston’s performance since the injury and has noticed other changes.
“From a performance standpoint, she hasn’t missed a beat,” she said. “She’s come back definitely on a mission to raise her game to a whole new level. There’s just a different approach with her, I feel. She’s really focused on making our group better and we’re really happy with how she’s responded.”
Ryan, about to coach his first major tournament as Canada’s bench boss, feels the same way.
“Often times, it doesn’t matter what happens to you, it’s how you react to it,” he said last week. “Rebecca has come back to the program and dealt with it to the best of her ability and came back and been a great addition to the program for sure. She’s highly skilled, plays the game the right way, plays with speed. We’re pretty happy with where she’s at right now given all that she’s dealt with.”
Johnston credits a mindset approach for her reversal of fortunes.
“I just try to take the positive approach and try to grow as a person and player,” Johnston said.
“Going through last worlds and then then my injury, I really took a step back and took a large picture of my life and how I wanted to play this out. I really love hockey and have a great passion for it. I love playing for my country and I think that work ethic, that passion, that motivation is there.”