To march with Team USA on Friday in the opening ceremony, Kings defenseman Jack Johnson awoke at 5 a.m. on a day between games, jumped on a charter flight from LAX to Bellingham, Wash., and hired a car and driver for the 50-mile trip to Vancouver.
Johnson wouldn’t say what he paid to charter the six-seat plane for himself, his parents and his little brother. To him, the experience is priceless.
“I had to take extreme measures to get here, but it was worth every bit of it,” said Johnson, the lone NHL player in the procession.
“To have the opportunity to walk alongside the Olympians from my country and walk in the opening ceremonies is something I will never forget, and there was no way I was going to let this opportunity slip by.”
Johnson began planning this when he made the Olympic team, and he praised Kings executives for supporting him. He planned to return to Los Angeles around midnight and participate in Saturday’s morning skate before the Kings’ game against Colorado at Staples Center.
“Jack has always been an integral part of the U.S. program and he has now reached its highest level -- a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to march with the colors,” General Manager Dean Lombardi said.
Johnson, who became a fan of the Olympics while watching the 1996 Summer Games, wore a blue Team USA jacket at a news conference. He stored the rest of his Olympic gear in his room at the athletes’ village, where he will share a two-room suite with Jamie Langenbrunner of the New Jersey Devils and Bobby Ryan of the Ducks. He said he left the private bedroom for Langenbrunner, the team captain. “I’m not messing around with that,” he said, drawing laughter.
He was impressed with what he saw of the village. “It’s way better than I would have ever imagined. The rooms are awesome,” he said. “The whole setup of this whole thing is way better than anything I would have envisioned.
“I never in a million years really thought that someday I could call myself an Olympian.”
Jim Johannson, assistant director of hockey operations for USA Hockey, applauded Johnson’s extraordinary effort. “This is what the Olympics is supposed to be about. It says a lot for a guy that it means so much what he went through to come and do it,” Johannson said.
The only sad note is that Team USA General Manager Brian Burke wasn’t beside him. Burke canceled plans to attend Friday’s ceremony after his son died in a car accident last Friday.
“It’s a tragic thing,” Johnson said. “Everyone at USA Hockey feels for him and feels very sorry for his situation.”