By Shane Frederick
The Free Press
At 5-foot-6, Carter Johnson has to look up to most of the other players on the Mankato East/Loyola boys hockey roster.
But the senior center hopes his leadership will get his teammates to look up to him.
“I’ve been doing everything I can to get myself mentally and physically ready for this year,” Johnson said. “It’s my last year of competitive hockey. I want to get the guys to realize that they’re not here forever, and we need to work our hardest — even the first year players — and do our best so we can have a good season.”
Johnson got his first varsity experience as a freshman, and has been a lineup regular for the past two seasons.
Coach Aaron Anderson said that Johnson’s stature may not be intimidating, but he makes up for that with his speed and tenacity.
“Without a doubt he’s our best backchecker,” Anderson said. “He just doesn’t give up. He gets hip to hip, and he gets under you and takes you off the puck. That’s what we want everybody to do.”
Johnson said he figured out pretty quickly that he had to play that way to stay on the ice.
“I’ve always been a short guy,” he said. “But it doesn’t discourage me from doing anything.”
His motto: “Bigger guys fall harder.”
“I may be a forward, but I do like playing defense; I like getting back and helping out the defensemen,” said Johnson, who had five goals and nine assists last season. “I don’t want to be the guy who’s lagging behind and watching a goal go in when I could have done something about it.”
Johnson is one of two captains and seven seniors on what is the Cougars’ largest roster (29 players) in four years — something that will allow East/Loyola to dress a JV team for the first time since Johnson was a freshman.
The other captain is defenseman Brent Adams. The rest of the senior class includes forwards Travis Volk, Alek Schulz, Nick Yess and Teal Leske and goaltender Aaron Kroeber.
“All of those guys have a huge amount of experience,” Anderson said.
The coach is hoping that experience translates into a big improvement from last year’s 4-21-0 record.
“I’m expecting us to push .500, if not better,” Anderson said.
Johnson is the team’s top returning scorer, ranking just one point behind the now-departed Ben Neyers and Jordan Wenzel. Junior defenseman Shane Sellner was right behind him at 11 points, including four goals. Adams had seven points last season.
Kroeber was the goalie of record in seven games in 2011-12, winning one.
He’ll have competition from sophomore Will Behsman and Jeremia Merela, an exchange student from Finland.
The Cougars will open the season Saturday at Worthington.
“I didn’t think I was going to be a very vocal leader this year,” Johnson said. “But I felt I needed to talk to the guys and tell them we can win games.”