Cornell University wins the Johnston Trifecta
by Randy Pascal
While many a young Canadian athlete is thankful for the opportunity to pursue the sport of their dream while attending a U.S. college or university on some form of athletic scholarship, one senses the shoe was likely on the other foot when it came to the recruitement of Sudbury phenom Rebecca Johnston.
Johnston, a national caliber athlete in both hockey and track & field, recently committed to attend Cornell University beginning in September of 2007. But the Ivy League school located in upstate New York (Ithaca, to be specific), managed to done one better this time around.
Rebecca will be joined by older brother Jacob, a smooth-skating defenseman with the Sudbury Kal Tire Jr Wolves, when classes begin next fall. The brother and sister tandem bring to three the total of Johnston siblings who will don the colours of the Cornell Big Red as older sister Sarah is currently completing her third year of studies (her "junior" year) as member of the ladies hockey team.
Well known soccer and hockey talent Katie Johnston blazed the trail south for the gifted offspring of Bob and Colleen Johnston, completing her final year at Harvard University just as the next two prepare anxiously for the first days of post-secondary education.
For the record, younger brothers Steven and Ryan, both currently playing "AAA" hockey within the Sudbury Minor Hockey Association ranks, round out the family one line unit, although none are volunteering any time soon to don the goalie equipment to make the line complete.
Despite the fact that their combination of academics and sporting talent has the Johnston clan travelling the span of the North American North East, it was still a family tightness that was, in part, behind the decisions of both Rebecca and Jacob to attend Cornell.
"With my sister (Sarah) going there, I think I'm really going to enjoy going to school with her for one year," noted Rebecca just prior to a recent practice of the Sudbury Intermediate Lady Wolves. "Having visited the campus a few times, I really liked the school and the people."
Make no mistake - Rebecca Johnston possesses incredible talent both on the ice and on the track. At just 17 years of age, she is the youngest player by almost a full year to crack the roster of the Canadian Jr Women's Under 22 team that will compete at the World Championships in Germany in the New Year.
She is also a five time OFSAA track medallist, an accomplishment almost unheard of for Northern Ontario athletes, including winning Gold twice in 2005. All of these accomplishments had plenty of Sudburians speculating on exactly how the friendly Grade 12 student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary might prioritize her sporting involvement beyond her years as a Knight.
"I think I'm just going to do hockey - we talked a little about track but from my standpoint, it's mostly hockey," Johnston admits. Other than Cornell, Rebecca Johnston admits that she gave serious thought to following in Katie's footsteps and heading to Harvard. And if not an Ivy school, then Wisconsin or Vermont might well have been her final destination.
In the end, one senses the playmaking forward who does not look the least bit out of place skating alongside the top Midget AA players in the Nickel District Minor Hockey Association is pleased simply to have the entire process completed. "It's a really hard decision and it's easy to get stressed out with all the applications and writing your SATs...I'm glad I've got all of that over with and I know what school I'll be attending next year."
While Rebecca made the decision to attend Cornell fully aware of the opportunity to suit up alongside Sarah for the first time since her Grade 9 year at Lo-Ellen, the bonus of having Jacob join them came as a very pleasant surprise. "I'm actually pretty excited that he's (Jacob) gotten the opportunity to go there and I know he's excited," she said. "It will be pretty neat to have three of us together."
As for Jacob, who enjoyed a very noticeable growth spurt since his days of patrolling the blue-line with the Sudbury Lockerby Confectionary Bantam AAA Wolves in 2002-03, he echoes his sister's sentiment in regards to the thrill of keeping a good portion of the family together at a university that will be a virtual home away from home.
"With my sisters having been there a lot, they gave me some great feedback. And I've visited a lot more recently and really enjoyed the campus," acknowledged the 18 year old graduate of Lo-Ellen Park Secondary. While Rebecca is a lock to step right in and star with the Big Red women's hockey team, Jacob knows full well his road to the starting lineup is sure to be a bit more challenging.
"They came up to see me play hockey and they were impressed. They're going to keep in touch with me and want me to show up at training camp...I still have to make the team," noted the rearguard who some have suggested blossomed a little too late to garner the junior hockey attention he might now have.
Currently standing six feet tall, Jacob Johnston's style of play is very well-suited to the direction that hockey appears headed at various levels. Always blessed with good vision of the ice and a keen hockey sense, Johnston makes the outlet pass decision as well as almost any defender in the NOJHL, a fact made evident by his 6th place standing in team scoring with 21 assists in the 22 games he has played.
In fact, Johnston trails only former OHLer Scott Lavigne and 5th year defenseman Andre Gauvin of Blind River in terms of defenseman scoring. "In my draft year, I was real small so I didn't really get any opportunities. Last year, I had the chance to attend the Wolves rookie training camp and we talked a little but by then, I had pretty much decided that if I had the chance to go the NCAA route, I would take it," Johnston admits.
And while Rebecca clearly has her sights set on the possibilities of some day suiting up with the National team, ideally at an Olympic Games venue, Jacob is taking a somewhat more pragmatic approach to the role hockey will play during his life at Cornell. "I plan on playing hockey for the college experience. I'm not going to the NHL or anything like that," the well-spoken teen admits quite realistically.
"The academics, the education I get at Cornell are what's most important to me. The hockey is just a bonus," he says. In the end, waiting one extra year before pursuing a post-secondary option in earnest was the best decision for Jacob Johnston, according to Johnston himself.
"The decision to stay back was good because I felt that I could improve a lot more. The growing really helped a lot," explains Johnston. Beginning in September, Rebecca begins her studies in Nutritional Sciences, although she readily admits to having little idea of what career she ultimately wants to pursue while Jacob works on a degree in Economics and Business Management.