Red Deer Rebels forward Reese Johnson has turned into one of the top faceoff men in the WHL. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Reese Johnson and the art of the draw

Rebels captain is one of the top faceoff men in the WHL this season

There is one particular faceoff that Red Deer Rebels captain Reese Johnson can’t seem to live down.

Last season, squaring off against former teammate Jake Leschyshyn, now a member of division rival Lethbridge Hurricanes, Leschyshyn got the slip on Johnson.

“I think last year, we laughed about it this summer, he made me fall on my face so I was pretty choked about that. He’s really good, we’ve had some good battles,” Johnson recalled.

The two Saskatoon, Sask., products are among the top faceoff men in the WHL this season. Leschyshyn has won the most draws with 775, while Johnson has been victorious on 671. The Rebels captain has taken almost 300 faceoffs less and has won more than 65 per cent, the best mark in the league.

“Definitely something I take a lot of pride in. One thing I want to be really good at,” he said.

“I work on lots after practice and I know lots of our centremen do. We have some pretty good battles. That’s a big thing, just working on them and getting as strong as I can.”

From period-to-period and game-to-game, the Rebels premier faceoff man always knows where he’s at.

“I pretty much know how many faceoffs I’ve won after each period,” Johnson said.

“I think about it, if it’s against a certain guy, I’ll switch it up to get back on the winning track. I count every faceoff, whether I win or lose. It’s always in the back of my mind.”

After a recent loss to the Brandon Wheat Kings and mention of the Rebels struggles in the dot, Johnson seemed to recall his wins and loss total quickly.

“If I have a weaker game, I thought I was alright. I think I was 17-for-23. Even if I have a weaker game I want to get back on track,” he said.

According to league stats about faceoffs, which have only been recorded since the start of last season, Johnson has won 1,448 over the last two years. In that time frame, over the course of 119 games, he has taken 2,411 faceoffs, close to 20-per-game. He has won 61 per cent of his faceoffs in that span.

Of course, the 20-year-old Saskatchewan native knows all this because he’s taken a keen interest in the art of the draw in the last few seasons and in particular this year.

“The biggest thing is being strong and strong on your stick,” he said.

“Against certain guys, there’s different techniques that you need to do to beat them… other good guys at draws I definitely know their techniques. You’re always switching it up against the good centremen. I definitely learn from what they do, if they’re beating me and stuff like that.”

Johnson added that on special teams he finds it the most critical to keep track of his wins and losses in the faceoff dot. From working with the new Rebels assistant coaches Brad Flynn and Ryan Colville, he has also picked up a few new tricks.

The technique of the draw changes for Johnson from game-to-game and even in every scenario right down to the side of the ice or situation. He says overall, he likes to win draws on his forehand and tries to use his strength as an advantage.

“Lots of guys, even at the pro level, they are always going on their backhand, even if it’s on the offside. For myself, I like to go forehand on the weak side too,” Johnson said.

“I’m pretty good at that one. It’s easier on your backhand against some guys, but I don’t mind taking them on the forehand too.”

Johnson will look to help the Rebels get back on track against the Lethbridge Hurricanes Friday night on the road, where he will do battle plenty in the dot with Leschyshyn.

Red Deer is back at home Saturday against the Calgary Hitmen.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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