Rebecca Johnston knows what success feels like.
As a member of the Canadian Olympic team, she’s had a gold medal draped around her neck. And as a player at Cornell, she’s scored game-winning goals, helped her team to an ECAC championship and won multiple individual honors.
But until last season, Johnston hadn’t experienced a Frozen Four.
Some of her teammates had played on college hockey’s ultimate stage in 2010 — the year Johnston was away with the Canadian Olympic team — but it wasn’t until Johnston returned to Cornell for her junior season that she found out what it’s all about.
[Johnston Rebecca cov] Now that she’s had that taste, she’d love to get one more shot at a national championship to cap off her senior season and Cornell career.
“It’s definitely made me hungrier,” said Johnston, a 5-foot-9 forward from Sudbury, Ontario and a two-time second-team All-American.
Last season, in Cornell’s second straight Frozen Four appearance, the Big Red lost 4-1 to Boston University in the national semifinals at Erie, Pa.
“I don’t know what I expected,” Johnston said of the Frozen Four. “But it was definitely a lot of fun. And being able to see those teams that we normally don’t get to see, from other conferences, was great. The banquet before, with the four teams, was a pretty cool experience, too. It’s one of the highlights of my career.”
But, she adds, it would be even better “if we were able to win a national championship.”
This season, Johnston and her teammates are doing what they can to make it happen.
Cornell, the No. 3 ranked team in the nation, is off to an 18-2 start, and Johnston leads the ECAC with 34 points (14 goals and 20 assists). One of the highlights of the season was a two-game rematch with Boston University in November that Cornell swept by scores of 3-1 and 7-1.
In the opener against the Terriers, Johnston had two goals and an assist, then chipped in with two assists the next day.
“I was definitely psyched to be able to play BU again since we lost to them last year in the semis,” Johnston said. “That game was exciting for our team just to see where we stand. I think we really became closer as a team after those games.”
Though Johnston remains hungry to play for a national title, her career at Cornell has been stellar.
Twice she’s been one of 10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award that goes to the best player in women’s college hockey. In addition, Johnston:
Always, even before coming to Cornell, Johnston has been able to score. When she came to Cornell her coach, Doug Derraugh, called her “the most explosive player I’ve ever seen in girls hockey,” adding, “her first three or four strides I think are better than anybody in women’s hockey right now.”
Johnston, however, doesn’t consider herself a classic scorer.
“Sometimes I struggle with it and kind of have to take a step back and refocus,” she said.
She knows she’s still growing as a player and has been able to learn from her teammates — at Cornell and on the Canadian national teams — and from Derraugh.
Taking a year off to play with Canada’s best players not only helped her develop her skills, but her confidence.
Though she watched and learned from many, she especially credits former Harvard star and 2008 Kazmaier Award winner Sarah Vaillancourt with helping her hone her game.
Johnston, who played on her line with Team Canada, said Vaillancourt “taught me a lot every day.”
“She wasn’t afraid to let me know what I need to work on and I was open to learning from her.”
For Johnston, her entire life has been a learning experience on the ice. Coming from a hockey family — all five siblings and her father have played, with Rebecca starting at age 4 — she loves everything about the game. She relishes the camaraderie, the action and working to get better.
“It’s always something different,” she said. No game is the same as the one before or the one after.
“I can’t imagine myself not playing hockey,” she said.
But she can imagine going to one more Frozen Four. Only this time, Cornell would win the trophy.