‘I’ve been in their shoes’: Flames welcome Rebecca Johnston to player development team

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Rebecca Johnston set ambitious goals and achieved them. She has a stash of championship memorabilia, including a hat-trick of Olympic gold medals, as proof of that.

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Now Johnston is focused on helping others as they pursue their own hockey dreams. A long-time forward for Canada’s National Women’s Team, she has been hired by the Calgary Flames in a full-time role that will include both player development duties and assisting with local initiatives.

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“For me, with what I’ve been through, I’ve been through it all – injuries, ups and downs, getting to the national team, getting to the Olympics, achieving the goals that I set myself to achieve. was set for my whole life…” Johnston said. “So I really think I have these experiences that can help these guys get to the next level and get to the NHL. It all translates. is all the same. I’ve had similar emotions to what they’ll have. I’ve dealt with mental skills trainers, just trying to get over certain things, when you’re in a crisis or something. So I know what it’s like, I’ve been in their shoes, in terms of what they’re going to go through and training and training and just pushing your body.

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“Just the experiences I’ve had in the past and being with the national team for so long and the longevity of my career, I feel like I have a lot of ideas that I can share. and hopefully help them realize their dreams of making it to the NHL one day.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the 32-year-old Johnston is done scoring big goals on behalf of Team Canada.

She still planned to take a break from international action this winter, explaining that her body – a troublesome back, in particular – needed a rest.

The Sudbury-raised sniper was a guest coach at the Flames’ development camp in mid-July, which sparked talks about becoming a full-time staff member.

“I wanted to explore and see what options I had outside of hockey, and then it happened, and I just thought it was a perfect fit,” said Johnston, who was admittedly overwhelmed – “in a very good manner” – by the reaction to Tuesday’s announcement. “I definitely wasn’t going to let that pass.”

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In his new role, Johnston will assist with prospect assessments, both in person and via video, and on-ice instruction. She will also work with the Flames Foundation on local programs. As she said, “I feel like I’m part of the Calgary community now — I’ve been here a while — so I really want to help grow the game.”

Team Canada's Rebecca Johnston celebrates with the gold medal during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in this Feb. 17 photo.
Team Canada’s Rebecca Johnston celebrates with the gold medal during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in this Feb. 17 photo. Photo by BRUCE BENNETT /Getty Images file

Johnston, whose resume as a player includes four Olympic medals – gold from Vancouver 2010, Sochi 2014 and Beijing 2022, plus silver from Pyeongchang 2018 – and 10 trips to the world championships, is the second woman hired to a coaching or development position at the Saddledome. Danielle Fujita is the Flames’ skating instructor.

Johnston also follows in the footsteps of many of his teammates over the years.

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Hayley Wickenheiser is now assistant general manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs, while Brigette Lacquette is a scout for the Chicago Blackhawks and Marie-Philip Poulin is also Canada’s captain and part-time player development consultant with the Montreal Canadiens.

According to the NHL, there will be more than 100 women working across the league during the 2022-23 season in hockey operations, scouting, development, health and safety and analyst roles.

“There are a lot of women now in the NHL side, and I hope this will inspire young girls to dream big and show them that they can achieve anything they want,” Johnston said. “I mean, I never would have thought even five years ago that this would be possible, so to have so many women doing this now and having all these great roles in the NHL, it’s amazing to see and i really think it will inspire girls to try to achieve anything and just dream big.

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“I think it’s really important that everyone knows – that there’s nothing you can’t do.”

This is the message she will soon share with the Flames of the Future.

“I’ve had some incredible experiences and you learn so much about yourself, especially in tough times,” said Johnston, who was still a teenager when she first joined the Team Canada roster. “I’ve definitely been through some tough times and overcome them, and it’s kind of the time when you see the growth in yourself and as a player. I feel like I can share that and, hopefully making a difference in this way with the Flames organization is my goal.

“I hope it’s something that inspires and helps these guys.”

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