Stephen Johns (#4) battles Jeremy Welsh in front of Scott Darling Monday Jan 19
Photo credit: Rockford IceHogs—
By Chris Block
Rockford had only begun to realize how much they missed the steady and physical play of Stephen Johns when injury struck the rookie defenseman again on Monday.
Now the IceHogs will again be without their big rookie blue liner for a stretch.
Johns will miss the next 2 to 3 weeks, according to the team.
“When you can’t do something you love and you enjoy every day, it hurts and it’s frustrating.”
Those were Stephen Johns’ words this past Saturday night, having just completed his second game back from a concussion that kept him out of action for seven weeks.
Now, a left knee injury, suffered Monday afternoon in a game against the Chicago Wolves, will force Johns to miss more time.
Ted Dent, himself said he hadn’t realized to the degree his Rockford IceHogs team had missed Johns until they got him back this past weekend. Johns had been sidelined by a vicious hit in a game on November 26th.
Johns, 22, who is ranked 3rd in our 2015 Chicago Blackhawks Top 25 Prospect Rankings (a peak at the top 15 here), had his knee twisted Monday while finishing his check on Chicago Wolves’ winger Terry Broadhurst. Johns had to be helped off the ice by teammates and did not return.
Dent updated the media to Johns’ status Wednesday before the IceHogs traveled to Des Moines where they’ll face off against the Iowa Wild without Johns on Thursday night.
“It’s unfortunate since he just came back from a 7-8 week injury,” Dent told reporters.
“He was playing well and obviously our team needs him in the lineup. He makes a big difference. He’s got a lower body injury and he’s probably two or three weeks away.”
Johns missed 17 games previously after being victim to a nasty hit from Iowa Wild forward Stephane Veilleux in Rockford on Nov 26. Veilleux was suspended 2 games as result of the boarding incident.
In the same game, Alex Broadhurst had his arm broken due to a hit from Wild forward Curt Gogol, who was also suspended 2 games for this charging violation. Broadhurst probably won’t return until March.
Without Johns in the lineup, Rockford had a record of 6-7-3-1. They were 15-4-0-1 at the time of his head injury. While a dip in offensive production is more to blame for the IceHogs’ struggles over that span, Rockford went from allowing 2.14 goals per game with Johns on the blue line, to 2.41 goals against per contest without the Ellwood City, Pennsylvania native.
Johns made his return at home last Friday (Jan 16) in a 4-0 win over Iowa. He skated again the next night in a 3-2 shootout win over the Wolves in Rosemont.
Then in the second period of the rematch with the Wolves in Rockford on Monday, Johns angled Terry Broadhurst, the puck carrier, off to the far boards across from the Wolves’ bench at the IceHogs’ defensive blue line. As Broadhurst crossed the line Johns closed the distance and shoved the former IceHog into the boards and off the puck. In doing so, it appeared that Johns’ left skate got caught underneath the two players, and when Broadhurst bounced off the boards he fell back into, and twisted Johns’ left knee.
Johns immediately crumbled to the ice and grabbed the knee as a tone of silence blanketed the BMO Harris Bank Center. It took a few teammates to help Johns up off the ice and Ryan Schnell and Viktor Svedberg then led him to the tunnel towards the IceHogs’ locker room.
So far this season Johns has appeared in 23 games. He has 6 assists and is a plus-13.
Being out of action 7 weeks was difficult for him to take, so getting sidelined again so quickly will be tough for Johns. But Wednesday’s news probably could not have been better considering how much pain he looked to be in Monday. [Video clip of the collision is here.]
We spoke to Johns after Saturday’s game in Rosemont about missing 17 games after the Vellieux hit and dealing with his first concussion.
“You kind of just have to keep your mind straight through the whole process and be patient. Just listen to your body and it’ll tell you when you’re ready. Unfortunately, it took a little longer than I expected, but I couldn’t be happier to be back.
“It’s a weird injury. You kind of have to be real careful with it. It’s the first one I’ve ever had, so it was tough.”
In the days after the Veillieux hit, it was thought Johns would be out for just a couple weeks. He resumed making public appearances for the IceHogs, but his recovery process dragged out.
“Yeah, I think that’s what we were all hoping,” Johns said this past Saturday. “We kind of just had to play it by ear. It just kind of lingered. It’s unfortunate.
“I think it just makes me more motivated for whenever I came back to help the team out. Try to be there and be a good teammate.”
Ted Dent had been excited to have Johns back too.
“Yeah, it’s really big,” Dent commented on Saturday prior to Johns’ newest injury.
“You don’t realize how much you miss him until he comes back and plays.”
Dent was impressed as well with how Johns was able to step back in and perform.
“I thought he played really well this weekend, two games in a row. He’s only going to get better. His conditioning, I think, is really good for be out seven weeks, or whatever it was. It’s definitely a great thing to see him back in the lineup.”
The Blackhawks will probably want to be cautious with Johns, so if his actual status is 2-3 weeks, it’s a better bet that Johns won’t return before the second week of February. If he returns on Friday February 13th in Milwaukee, that would mean Johns would miss 6 games and it would be 24 days between games. That weekend is a three-in-three set for Rockford, however, and I can’t see them wanting to push Johns through a game weekend coming off the knee injury.
To compensate for the loss of Johns, defenseman Kyle Cumiskey could be ready to make his return soon. Cumiskey has been sidelined by an upper-body injury since suffering it January 9 in a home game against the Milwaukee Admirals. No official word on his actual injury other than it’s an “upper” and Cumiskey has been skating and the team is being cautious with his return.
Veteran Zach Miskovic is another extra blue liner who figures to draw in now with Johns back out of action.