By Jim Diamond
Former Predator captain Greg Johnson has the rare honor of receiving credit for scoring a goal at 0:00 of the first period of a game. That game was played Jan. 23, 2006 in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. But in reality, Johnson actually scored that goal two months earlier in a November game played against the Red Wings.
Midway through the first period of the Predators-Red Wings game on Nov. 21, 2005, Johnson scored a goal to give the Predators a 1-0 lead. About a minute after that goal, a medical emergency on Detroit’s bench halted the game. Jiri Fisher, a promising young defenseman for the Red Wings, collapsed due to cardiac arrest. Thanks to quick action by the team’s medical staff, a nearby doctor, and even one of the on-ice officials, Fisher was resuscitated.
The game was rescheduled to be played in its entirety in January, but the league did not want to strip the Predators of the lead they had, so they started the game with a 1-0 lead with the normally impossible goal credited to Johnson at 0:00 of the first period. Nashville eventually won the game 3-2.
Johnson and former Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun were in Nashville Saturday as part of the NHL’s Centennial Fan Arena and Truck Tour.
Following his time in Nashville, Johnson signed a contract to re-join the Red Wings, his first NHL team. Some preseason medical exams revealed a potential heart issue with Johnson. With Fischer’s situation still fresh in his mind, he quickly realized that his playing career was over.
Asked about the status of his health currently, Johnson had good news.
“Everything is fine,” he said. “There were some risks and complications initially and with the Jiri Fischer thing. I was 35 with a young family and it wasn’t worth the risk. It was just time to walk away.”
Prior to Saturday’s Predators game against the visiting Florida Panthers, Johnson and Vokoun spent considerable time signing autographs for fans. The first game in Predators history was played against Florida, and Johnson took the franchise’s first faceoff in that game.
His most memorable goal as a Predator came in Game 4 of the 2004 series against the heavily favored Red Wings. Nashville evened the series 2-2 in that game before eventually falling to Detroit in six games.
“The goal in Game 4 of that series against the Wings it kind of tied the series,” Johnson said. “It was kind of a clinching goal. I think there were like eight minutes left. I just remember the building exploding.“
Johnson, a graduate of the University of North Dakota, has transitioned into the finance world in his post-hockey career. He laced up the skates and took a spin on the outdoor rink adjacent to Bridgestone Arena Saturday.
“I skated on the outdoor rink, I think it was the first time I’ve been on skates in seven years,” he said. “I was worried I was going to embarrass myself and fall down.”
Asked if getting back on the ice stoked a fire in him, he said that feeling the ice brought back some memories.
“I miss it,” Johnson said. “I don’t go to many sporting events, just the energy I can feel. I’m excited to be back in the building. I miss the adrenaline rush. There’s nothing like being a professional hockey player. I miss it dearly.”
Johnson played 502 of his 785 career NHL games in a Predator sweater. It’s no surprise that he feels a special connection to the city and to the team.
“In my heart I am a Predator and a big Predator fan,” he said.