With the NHL’s regular season just kicking off, chances are you aren’t thinking too much about the Stanley Cup finals.
But if by chance you happen to be, there are always a few that stand out.
For example, every single one with an overtime goal that wins the Stanley Cup. From Bobby Orr to Bob Nystrom, right through to Alec Martinez.
In that mix is the most controversial of championship-winning goals in the NHL. Brett Hull’s triple-overtime winner on Dominik Hasek in 1999, in Buffalo. If we revered instant replay back then in the same way that we do now, that goal might not have ended that game. The NHL has always maintained that the right call was made and that they were going to change the rule about skates in the blue ice anyway, but if you walk down Perry Street in Buffalo or go into Cobblestone for some 3 Dip Nachos and yell out, “no goal,” you’ll make instant friends.
London Knights’ goaltender Tyler Johnson can tell you a whole lot about that goal. He was in the building when it was scored, in the very early hours of June 20th. Had it been the Sabres who scored it, he might have even been awake.
“I was pretty young,” says Johnson. “I don’t remember it. I was about a year old and my parents say I slept right through everything, but I was there nevertheless.”
Johnson has watched the game since. Maybe not all five periods and fourteen-plus minutes, but he has seen the goal for himself.
“It still haunts Buffalonians everywhere.”
The connection to the Sabres and to one of the greatest goalies in the history of hockey actually runs pretty deep for Johnson. This wasn’t a matter of just having tickets to a random game in the Stanley Cup finals.
“My dad sold cars and ended up selling cars to Dominik Hasek and some of the other players on the Sabres and Dominik Hasek would come by our house. He and my dad became pretty good friends.”
By the time Johnson was three, Hasek had moved on to the Detroit Red Wings, so Hall of Fame coaching tips were a little difficult to come by, but maybe just the presence during some formative years were enough to make Johnson decide to put on pads when he started playing hockey. That, and a coach who might have just been looking for something to do late in a practice.
“I was five and at that age you shared the job of goalie. A different kid would play every game. One practice, a coach just started shooting pucks at me and I fell in love with it.”
People kept shooting pucks at him and he kept loving it.
But things didn’t go from house league hockey to the OHL all in one motion. His journey to London kind of resembles a walk up a mountain path in the Andes by burro, but he made it.
Johnson was actually a draft pick of the Plymouth Whalers, but had OHL and NCAA options open until December 30th, 2014. That night, he played just over ten minutes for the Whalers in a game against the Windsor Spitfires. Eventually, the NCAA ruled that appearance would prevent Johnson from playing hockey with any Division-1 school for one year.
The decision was appealed by the University of Maine, where Johnson was planning to continue his hockey career and the suspension was upheld.
That led to Johnson re-considering his options and that landed him in London with the Knights.
“It’s been interesting for sure,” Johnson says as he raises an eyebrow, “It might not be the way you would expect things to go, but honestly, in the end, everything has worked out very well.”
Maybe he’ll get himself back to Buffalo some day. Maybe he’ll even find himself standing in that blue ice that Brett Hull made so famous.