Red Deer Rebels forward Reese Johnson is enjoying finally being healthy for the first time in his WHL career this season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Red Deer Rebels forward Reese Johnson into the swing of things

To the outside world, playing 27 games in one WHL season seems like an innocuous number.

For Red Deer Rebels forward Reese Johnson, it’s a streak that brings both relief and some sense of satisfaction.

Johnson, 19, has played every game for the Rebels in 2017, something he hasn’t done in four years with the team. He tallied 36 games in 2015-2016, but missed the last month of the season with a shoulder injury.

Injury after injury has derailed season after season for the Saskatoon, Sask., native, but being in the lineup every game so far in 2017 has been a welcomed change.

“It’s awesome to be in the regular full swing of things. Obviously last year was tough. Awesome to be back with the guys everyday – just an unreal feeling,” Johnson said Thursday before practice.

On top of that, he’s hit a career high in goals with nine and in assists with five as well as points at 14, all while playing an important checking role for the Rebels.

He’s won 59 per cent of his faceoffs this year and produced 0.52 points per game. He had a career-best game on Tuesday against the Wheat Kings when he had two goals and an assist.

“It’s nice to produce for the guys and for the team, but that just comes. Just have to keep working hard, my offense comes with good defence. Have to stick with my game and keep working hard and winning all those battles,” he said.

Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt said Johnson’s offseason commitment to training, coupled with a positive attitude has helped the 19-year-old weather the storm this year.

“His off-ice conditioning this summer was great and he came back in great shape. He’s quicker and I’m sure he’s enjoying the game being injury free too,” Truitt said.

“(He plays) a real energetic and hard game. He’s got some offensive skill and he can contribute scoring wise but (is) responsible defensively. Good penalty killer. But it’s his energy– he works hard at both ends of the ice and that can be infectious.”

Johnson agreed, adding he spent time at a new training facility in his hometown of Saskatoon this summer along with plenty of top-notch training partners, including former Rebel Nelson Nogier.

“My summer training group got a new training facility. Pretty amazing, full soccer field in there. Did lots of running, sprints– spent a lot of time training and I think that helped a lot,” Johnson said.

“A couple guys I grew up with but I know everyone from the hockey world, Nelson Nogier who used to play here, he trains there too so he’s someone I look up too. Big, strong guy.”

His own adversity aside, the center said it has obviously been a tough month for the team but the attitude in the dressing room has not really wavered and after jumping out to a 5-1 lead over Brandon there’s something to build on.

“I think the best way to get through it is just stick together as a team, you can’t fall apart. That’s the easy thing to do,” Johnson said.

“Last week or two, I think the guys are really buying in. Obviously last game, the first two periods, we know how we can play. We can dominate the game. We just have to stick to it for a full 60 and I think we’ll be good once we figure it out.”

With back-to-back home dates this weekend against the Regina Pats Friday and the Calgary Hitmen Saturday, Johnson said he expects the team to come out and bring their A game.

“(Friday) leads into Saturday, everyone just has to prepare the right way and think the right way and I think we’ll be good to go,” he said.

Puck drop Friday against the Regina Pats is set for 7 p.m. at the Centrium.



Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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