Hockey star shines in Oakland

by Zach Riley, Staff Writer

In a small town called Oakland, NJ,  resides Indian Hills High School, where the bus rolls up and stops to await a hockey team that has the credentials to be called a dominant team.

Within this dominant team is a handful of players that have the potential to do something great.  Junior Liam Johnson is one of those players.

The eager team boards the bus and travels to Wayne, NJ,  where the Indian Hills Braves will play at the Ice Vault against their rivals, the Ramapo Raiders.

As he takes his steps off the bus and walks up to the sliding glass doors, the nerves flow through him. He thinks about all the people who will be watching, expecting something great from him.

The young man walks into the main entrance and heads into the arena where the ice awaits him. The Zamboni circles the ice polishing every last inch of the cold, damp rink. As he opens the door to the locker room, he unzips the large bag that contains the armor he will use to go into this battle on the ice.

The team that awaits him hits close to home because of the friends that have chosen the pathway of the Ramapo Raiders instead of the Indian Hills Braves.  For tonight they are not his friends. They are both rivals once the puck hits the ice.

Piece by piece, the equipment is attached to his body like a suit of armor. At this point, Johnson is ready to lay everything out on that ice and prove he is one of the best.

The locker room door opens and a line of fully padded goal-hungry players flow out as they stand at the entrance to the rink. A bucket is tossed and pucks scatter across the ice. Following, is the line of players of the Indian Hills hockey team.

In the back of that long line of players stands Johnson as he starts to pursue the players scattering the ice skating in circles and occasionally sending a sharp wrist shot on net as goalie Darren Gentiluomo flashes the glove to make as many stops as he can.

After a few minutes, two lines are formed and a drill starts. Liam skates toward the front of the net and receives a pass from his teammate and takes the shot and heads back in line. The stands starting to fill with students and parents. Johnson looks up and sees signs in the student section with his name and pictures — not just one, the banners fill the student section.

Indian Hills student holding a “Liam Johnson” sign against the glass for Johnson and all to see.
Photo Credit: Zach Riley
Indian Hills student holding a “Liam Johnson” sign against the glass for Johnson and all to see.

The horn is sounded throughout the room. Liam skates toward the bench, ready to hear his coach’s game plan. The five starters line up on the blue line closest to their bench.

Over the P.A. system starts an instrumental version of the national anthem. The flag hangs high behind the net on the wall. As applause fills the room, Liam fist bumps some of his teammates and then skates to his position around the faceoff circle.

The referee skates in between the two opposing forwards, right next to the center dot, and slaps the puck down. The two sticks clash together with force and the puck ricocheted right back to Johnson . Quickly, a pass is sent from Johnson across the ice, and he skates forward following the play. The puck skims the boards in the corner of the rink and, racing to cut it off, is Liam. Snow from the ice is projected onto the glass and the puck comes to a stop.  

With the puck cleared, it was time for a line change. Johnson skates to the bench and gets replaced by the second line. Liam looks around and takes in the atmosphere of the rivalry game.

Down in the third

As the time ticks away and periods one and two close, Johnson jumps over the boards and skates out for the third period. The score is 2-1 Ramapo. Johnson and his teammates were ready for a comeback.  

The puck drops and the the time starts to tick away. Each second edges closer to the inexorable conclusion — down by a goal, if nothing were to change, Liam’s team would lose. Ramapo wins the faceoff and starts to inch its way past the blue line and look for a chance to extend the lead. They wanted to put away the Indian Hills hockey team.

With close to three minutes gone in the third period, Ramapo controls the puck as it heads up the ice. The puck, however, is poked away and regained by an Indian Hills forward and is slung down the ice to meet up with the hustling Liam Johnson. He squeezes through the defense, comes to the right side of the net, and quickly passes the puck. Sean Maurer, the oncoming teammate, takes the opportunity and scores the goal just 3:39 into the third period.

The game is tied, 2-2.

The four other players swarm the goalscorer in the corner to congratulate him. This was the goal to set up the epic comeback that Johnson and his teammates wanted.

Johnson could have taken a shot or tried to maneuver his way around defender, likely losing the puck, but, instead, he thought of the team. He gave his teammates a chance. This is the type of player that Liam Johnson is: he cares less about the personal glory and more about the team.  

Johnson and the Indian Hills Braves went on to score another goal on a power play a minute and twelve seconds later to give Indian Hills a 3-2 lead early in the third period. Although the score of the game was in favor of Indian Hills, Ramapo would not go away and with the remaining time the Ramapo players hit harder, shot harder, and hustled through every second to try and win this game.

As the timer ticked down the final seconds, the student section went crazy, chanting at the departing Ramapo section.

Liam and his teammate’s shake the hands of the opposing team and congratulate the Ramapo Raiders on a well-played game.

 Liam and teammate Cameron Cotter celebrating after the big game.
Photo Credit: Zach Riley
Liam and teammate Cameron Cotter celebrating after the big game.

The Indian Hills hockey season came to an end in the second round of the NJSIAA playoffs in the public group B section with a 3-1 loss to Mendham. Liam didn’t have an impact on that game in the scoring or assist column but hustled and played the best he could.

 

The puck doesn’t stop here

It’s 6 a.m. when a phone alarm starts to beep louder and louder. A hand slaps down on the dismiss button of the alarm clock. It is now 6:05 a.m. and Liam Johnson is ready for his early morning workout.

Even though the Indian Hill’s season is over, Liam’s hockey season is just beginning. The spring season signifies the beginning of staying in shape and the NJ Alliance spring hockey team. Liam is hard at work lifting four days a week to get ready for another season of hockey.

After he stumbles out his bedroom door and through the downstairs living room and into the home gym set up in the basement of his house, he starts to gather the weights to put on the bench press.

Most of his workouts consist of high tempo weightlifting and conditioning,“after the season I try to bulk up and get in better shape than the last season by working out with max reps and max weight,” Johnson said. After each workout, Johnson even goes for a two mile run up and down the hills of his community which keeps him is shape.

Johnson is a respectable young athlete that works hard on and off the ice and gets everything done.”

— Laurence Introna

Johnson’s longtime teammate, Laurence Introna, says off the ice Johnson is a “respectable young athlete that works hard on and off the ice and gets everything done.”

Johnson repeats this workout cycles for a couple of weeks until the NJ Alliance season starts in April. He works hard, skating, running and lifting for close to a month. He needs to be in shape for the long season with lots of traveling.

Johnson will be traveling  for games all over the state of New Jersey to face the top travel teams in the area. With practice six days a week, Johnson’s schedule for free time and fun is down to almost nothing. But Johnson knows that’s the sacrifice that he needs to make to be successful.

Johnson’s drive to be the best at hockey started off when he was young. Johnson was introduced to hockey by his father’s love for the New York Rangers, Johnson was roped into the love of hockey because of the experience that him and his father shared at The Garden, watching the Rangers play the game he has come to love so much.

Johnson, at the age of four, started to learn the fundamentals of hockey and teaching him throughout the years was his father who pushed him to make sure he was striving to be the best every time. He made sure that his son was playing to the potential he knows he can play for the sake of his future.

One of Johnson’s biggest accomplishments in his eyes is the year of when he won the state championship with his Skyland Kings AA bantam team. That was also a turning point in his hockey career because the championship boosted his confidence for future teams.

Johnson’s life however isn’t all hockey. He enjoys the occasional lazy days that help him recuperate and Saturday nights with his friends to make sure he still enjoys the moments he will remember forever from the four years spent in high school.

Johnson believes that in the future there will be a time where he looks back on high school and remembers the great life lessons and moments that hockey will give him forever. But, he also wants to remember the moments with his friends when they share laughs and have a good time.

But Johnson’s 12 year voyage with the game of hockey gives him more options leading to the end of his high school career and the throughout of beginning a new start in the high paced college hockey.

Johnson hopes to prove his skills in the college level but with the odds against him the probability of him advancing to professional hockey is very slim so in reality college would signal the end of years of hard work, passion, and the love of the game.

 “If I don’t continue on after college every moment spent on that ice and creating that brotherhood and making the friends I will never forget will all be worth it in the end.”

But, for now, Johnson is focused on his upcoming senior year  where he will look to take a leadership role and focus on the situation now and now 8 years from now.

For Johnson, being a senior on the Indian Hills hockey team will be fun because it will be his last time playing with the kids he grew up playing with.

Later on in my life I will look back on the experiences I had with my good friends I leaving everything we left out there on the ice together win or lose year after year.”

— Johnson

“Later on in my life I will look back on the experiences I had with my good friends I leaving everything we left out there on the ice together win or lose year after year.”

Hockey has taught Johnson so many things from sportsmanship to trust in others and toughness. Hockey shaped Johnson for the better of his life and making him physically and mentally

With all the years of close instruction and discipline, Johnson is just accustom to doing everything done right the first time every time and that’s a great trait to have heading into the world where he will need to have a stable job and family.

“Mentally from the help of hockey and the constant times where I’m expected to do great things and come out successful, So that really helps me out for the stress that I will probably encounter later in life.”

The after effects of hockey

Sure the game of hockey is fun and a great learning experience but, the effects of the constant hitting and blocking can really take a toll on your body.

Even though Johnson has a lot of exciting hockey moments there were also some moments that made him think  if it was all worth it.

From as early as middle school, Johnson recalls several head injuries that kept him from lacing up those skates and heading onto the ice.

These injuries at such an early age for Johnson could mean that the sport is too violent but in many eyes people don’t see a problem.

Johnson has had a total of 6 concussions throughout his life from playing hockey and he may not know if that will affect him later on in life and later regret playing the game he loves.

That’s why there is always the question about hitting in certain leagues at early ages to prevent unwanted injuries that could potentially ruin a child’s life forever.

But there are many people around the world who insist on keeping the game the way it was meant to be played and that’s a high paced physical hockey game.

Backup plans

It’s not every day that an up and coming high school star blossoms with his talents  in the college level , so for Johnson and other hockey players like him it is definitely smart to still work hard in school.

There may be a time in which the skates will have to be hung up so it’s better to know what to do when the time comes. Finding something to major in in college is definitely a good thing but, before getting into college it’s good to make sure you have the grades to back up the strong hockey play that Johnson  and many others have.

Johnson has worked hard in school to hopefully get into his college of choice to be an accountant and work hard for a job that he will end up doing everyday of his life.

Moving forward in life

Hockey for Johnson is not just a sport, not just a hobby, but a lifestyle and the game of hockey is in his blood and will run through his generations hopefully forever as his son will play hockey and achieve the dream liam one day wanted and that was to be a professional hockey player.

Maybe even one day Johnson can share the same moment he shared with his dad as a kid with his son later in life and seeing the rangers play in Madison Square Garden, to start the same life long journey Johnson had, for his son and make his family proud.