Tim Wharnsby - Saturday Feb. 8, 2014 13:25

Rebecca Johnston leads Canadian women to 1st Olympic hockey win

Sudbury, Ont., native uses impressive family lineage as motivation

Canada's Rebecca Johnston, left, scores on Switzerland's goalie Florence Schelling during the second period of the women's Olympic hockey opener Saturday in Sochi, Russia. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)
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SOCHI — All those days playing road hockey with her three brothers and two sisters in front of the family home on Eden Point Drive in Sudbury, Ont., helped nurture Rebecca Johnston’s competitiveness and athleticism.

The outdoor sessions on the rink at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary didn’t hurt either. Oh yeah, there also were those occasions in the summer when the family rented some ice to keep their skills sharp, beat up on each other and have some fun.

“I think all of that really helped,” said the talented 24-year-old forward with the Canadian Olympic women’s hockey team that opened the 2014 Sochi Games with a convincing 5-0 victory over Switzerland on Saturday. She scored a goal and added two assists.

“We used to get ice and go out and play as a family,” Johnston continued. “We still do in the summer. Growing up I played on my older brother’s team for two years. I played against my older sisters. You don’t want to lose to them. It was kind of a competitive environment, but a fun environment.”

Her parents fostered this environment. Both Colleen and Robert were athletes. Colleen was a three-sport competitor in track and field, basketball and volleyball. Robert played hockey at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S.

They encouraged their kids not to sit around the house, but to get outside and play.

“Oh gosh, there was always something to do,” Rebecca Johnston said. “We were either playing road hockey or out on the outdoor rink. There was never a dull moment.

“My parents are both very active. They stressed being active, no TV, that sort of thing.”

Impressive lineage

That sort of thing spawned five accomplished athletes. Here is the Johnston family roster:

  • Kathleen, now 29, played hockey and soccer at Harvard University. She also played soccer for Canada at the 2003 Pan-American Games.
  • Sarah, 27, played hockey at Cornell University.
  • Jacob, 25, after a solid career at Dalhousie University, he plays defence for the Evansville Icemen in the ECHL.
  • Rebecca, 24, played hockey and earned a communications degree at Cornell University.
  • Ryan, 21, is in his sophomore season on Colgate University’s blue-line.
  • Steven, 19, plays left wing for junior A for the Pembroke Lumber Kings.

Imagine all the sports equipment around that home.

“We had so much equipment inside our basement we could have supplied about four teams,” Rebecca Johnston said. “The basement definitely was our equipment room. We also shot pucks down there.”

Johnston has brought national fame to the family. She won gold with the Canadian women’s team in Vancouver four years ago. She also had an all-star career at Cornell, where she played with current national team members Lauriane Rougeau and Laura Fortino. But before she left for the Ithaca, N.Y., school she won five provincial track and field medals in middle-distance running events for Lo-Ellen Park.

In Canada’s opener at the 2014 Olympics, Johnston made history. She scored Canada’s 500th all-time goal in Olympic and world championship competitions. But she stated the win was more important.

“It was important to get off to a good start, get some confidence going here,” she said.

And to give her family something to cheer about.

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