Johnston’s Reconnect at Rivalry Series in AnaheimFeb 16, 2020
Hockey is widely considered the biggest winter sport in the world, and while Canada is known as the face of the pastime, it continues to grow exponentially here in the United States.
Over the last 10 years, California witnessed a boom of hockey activity, with USA Hockey recording 25-percent increases in youth participation and almost 50-percent growth in women’s hockey. The Anaheim Ducks recently helped continue this trend, hosting the final game of the 2019-20 Rivalry Series between the U.S. and Canada women’s teams at Honda Center on Feb. 8.
The two teams played in front 13,320 fans, a record for the most-attended women's national hockey team game ever played on U.S. soil. One of those watching the action – Gulls defenseman Ryan Johnston, who made the 90-mile trek north to watch his sister Rebecca, a forward on Team Canada, compete in the showpiece event.
Playing in the memorable 2019-20 Rivalry Series is just a small part of Rebecca Johnston’s incredible hockey journey. A member of Team Canada since 2007, she competed at eight IIHF Women’s World Championships as well as three Olympic Winter Games, helping Canada win gold in 2010 (Vancouver) and 2014 (Sochi), as well as a silver medal in PyeongChang (2018) where she was among the team’s leading scorers.
Ryan and Rebecca share an additional three siblings, two brothers and a sister, all of whom credit hockey as a big influence in their lives. With their busy schedules, Ryan, the fourth youngest of the five siblings, wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to go see his big sister play at Honda Center.
“I was really excited to see her. I haven’t seen her since Christmas,” said the Gulls defenseman the morning of the contest. “I don’t get to see her too often because she’s always playing hockey at the exact same time as me. It’s typically only summers that I can see her, so I’m just excited to see her.”
The 27-year old Johnston was acquired by the Gulls from the Toronto Marlies in exchange for future considerations and, upon news of the trade, he immediately called his sister, who previously played under current Gulls head coach Kevin Dineen. During the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Dineen coached Canada’s women’s team to a gold medal, helping Rebecca, who co-led Canada with 2-3=5 points in five tournament games, win her second gold medal.
“She was really excited,” explained Johnston on his sister’s reaction to finding out he was going to join the Dineen-led Gulls. “She really liked him and really enjoyed her time playing for him. She mentioned it beforehand and we had our Facetime calls and we just talked about what he’s like and such. It was all good things beforehand too.
“It’s crazy, everyone just knows everyone somehow. It’s just that small connection, that small world that you just seem to always have a connection in some sort of way.”
Team USA walked away with a thrilling 4-3 overtime win and won the best-of-series with a 4-1-0 record.
While hockey is played around the world, it is built within a figuratively small and close-knit community. For one night in Anaheim, it all comes full circle. Johnston now suits up for the Gulls under Dineen, and he and his sister share one more bond from the sport they love.