SUFFOLK, P.E.I. – Ross Johnston took care of three firsts in his NHL career in a matter of a week.
The New York Islanders recalled the Suffolk, P.E.I., native on Jan. 19 from the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
He recorded his first NHL assists and fight the next night in Chicago and five days later scored his first goal in Las Vegas, Nev., against the expansion Golden Knights.
It was his first games since making his debut with the Islanders on April 10, 2016.
“All the (same) nerves were there, probably even a little more amplified this time,” Johnston said during a recent off-day.
“It’s pretty special to go up to this level again and to be able to play (in) the NHL . . . and contribute at the same time.”
After receiving the news about the call-up, he spoke with his parents, Shirley and Frank, and then boarded his flight for Chicago.
“Anytime you get on the scoreboard, whether it’s an assist or a fight, you’re helping your team out,” he said. “Those are kind of my few firsts, so they’re pretty special for me, and it’s a game I will remember. My parents were able to make it out for it, so it was very special for them and myself.”
After playing in Arizona on Jan. 22, Johnston and his Islanders teammates made the trek to Vegas to play one of the surprise stories of this season.
“The atmosphere in that rink is out of this world,” Johnston said. “Being able to score (my) first goal in front of that crowd, in that atmosphere, is very special. It’s something, obviously, I will cherish forever.”
Johnston said he was grateful for “the overwhelming support” from P.E.I. in the days after his first goal.
“My phone, as you’d expect, was blowing up a little bit, but it was only positive things,” he said. “It meant a lot to me and it meant a lot to my family. They were getting calls from the neighbours and friends. . . It’s been a busy time, but an exciting time.”
And it started almost immediately when the goal was scored as former teammates and buddies like Craig MacLauchlan were retweeting the comments and video online.
“I was kind of wondering to myself, what the heck are you all doing up? It’s absurd. After the game, they had all (sent) congratulation texts. It means a lot. These guys have been texting me every day or every second day,” Johnston acknowledged.
“It means a lot to me that they take that time.”
He also had a chance to catch up with Golden Knights coaches and Island natives Mike Kelly and Gerard (Turk) Gallant.
After the morning skate, Kelly had reached out to the Islanders equipment manager and said he would like to speak to Johnston after the game. Johnston had played for Kelly with the P.E.I. Riptide during spring hockey and his older brother, Will, had played for Turk with the Saint John Sea Dogs.
“It was very nice of them to come over and reach out to me,” Johnston said. “It was very nice to see some familiar faces down in Las Vegas and it’s obviously very nice to see them doing so well with that team.”
Johnston, who is in the final year of his contract, said he is going to do whatever he can to stay up with the big club. But if he does get sent back to the AHL he will continue to work hard to improve his game and get back to the world’s top league.
The Charlottetown Islanders and Summerside Western Capitals graduate said his parents, brother and sister have been very supportive as he pursued his dream of playing in the NHL.
“They’ve done so much for me and, obviously, I’m very grateful for that.”
Need to know
Milestone week A 23-year-old Suffolk native playing with the New York Islanders of the NHL.
Milestone week Six-foot-five, 235-pound left-winger.
Previous three games
G A Pts. PIM Shifts
Jan. 25 1 0 1 0 10
Jan. 22 0 0 0 0 12
Jan. 20 0 1 1 15 11
First goal description: Johnston took a pass near the faceoff circle and threw a pass out front the goal-line.
“I was trying to centre it for (Cal) Clutterbuck. I thought he swiped it in, but it ended up hitting (Cody) Eakin’s stick and going five-hole. When I seen Clutterbuck reach for the puck I guess I figured my first NHL goal. It was obviously quite the feeling,” Johnston said, noting it was a memorable moment coming back to the bench and seeing his teammates smiling and congratulating him. “It meant a lot to me and is something I’ll hold onto and be able to reflect on a few years down the road.”