Player: Nick Johnson
Hometown: Calgary, Alberta (he grew up in Springbank, which is on the city limits)
Population: Calgary - 1,042,892; Springbank - 5,073
Type: Calgary – urban; Springbank – suburban
Earlier in the season Connor James described the popular pancake breakfasts that are held all over Calgary during the annual Calgary Stampede. Nick Johnson, who also grew up in Calgary, confirmed that pancakes are indeed a popular choice when the rodeo comes to town. But there is much more to Calgary than bucking bulls and flapjacks. There’s a bitter rivalry that once forced Johnson to hide his attire while he was watching a certain hockey game in a certain arena.
What kind of place was Springbank?
“It was just open country to the west of Calgary. It used to be really nice – not much around but prairie. Over the years though, the city has kind of grown out toward us. I was born in Calgary and my family moved to Springbank when I was 4.”
What did you do as a kid besides play hockey?
“I played indoor lacrosse for six years and did a lot of fishing.”
I take it you’ve been to the Calgary Stampede and are familiar with the coinciding pancake breakfasts?
“Yes. It’s kind of a Stampede tradition and they have tons of pancake breakfasts every morning. I guess that’s what the pioneers used to eat. I don’t know.”
Did you ever get into rodeo?
“No. I didn’t have cows or horses growing up, although I did ride horses. But if you don’t grow up with cows or horses, you’re really not going to get into rodeo.”
Were you a Calgary Flames fan?
“I was more an L.A. (Kings) fan because I liked Wayne Gretzky. But then Calgary had seven years in a row of not making the playoffs, and the second or third year of them being so bad, for some reason I started liking them. I’d get so mad when they lost.”
When the Flames play the Edmonton Oilers the games are dubbed the Battle of Alberta. How big is the rivalry?
“It’s huge. It’s like the Flyers-Penguins, or Steelers – Eagles.”
Do you have any Battle of Alberta memories?
“When I was in juniors in Edmonton, I went to a Flames-Oilers game there and sat a few rows off the ice. The Flames beat them 3-1 and (Jarome) Iginla set someone up for a goal right in front of me. It was amazing. But when I went I wore my Flames jersey under my coat and a Flames hat. When I would sit down I’d take off my coat, but when I walked around I’d keep it on. The Oilers fans weren’t too happy that night. There were a handful of Flames fans in the arena and when they’d see my hat they’d give me a high-five.”
What did you like best about growing up in western Canada?
“It’s home. You have the prairies with all the deer and wildlife, and you have the Canadian Rockies a half hour away. It’s a real pretty area and you can actually see the Canadian Rockies from downtown Calgary. They’re like a backdrop, similar to what it looks like in Denver.”
Are you going to move back to Calgary after hockey?
“I’d move back to Calgary in a second, but I’ve been to a bunch of places where I can see myself living. It depends on the circumstances at the time, but Calgary is probably number one on the list.”