It would be an understatement to say that 2010-11 did not go the way Chaz Johnson expected.
That he ended it in the American Hockey League left him feeling optimistic after a year of mostly pessimism. Individually, his numbers were fine: Johnson led the team with 22 goals and his 127 penalty minutes were second to James McEwan.
But in four games with Manchester he went scoreless and was released just before the playoffs started. He talked about his return to the AHL, plus some off-the-ice issues that affected his play.
After not getting called up all season, it must have been nice to end the year in Manchester.
It was definitely a great experience to get called up and to get back to where I honestly believe I should be. I obviously would’ve liked to have been called up earlier sometime in the year, but hey it’s better late than never, right?
How did it go?
It was definitely positive. I played really hard. The coach definitely liked what he saw. Talking with him, he honestly knows that I should be playing up there. With my skill set and all, they definitely didn’t know too much about me, but they didn’t really know if I could play on the power play, or on the penalty kill, but I’m sure if I go back – he gave me a really good opportunity – I’d get more of an opportunity if I went back. Just knowing how I play and what I can do. I definitely would love to get the opportunity to go back to Manchester to a tryout, see what happens.
What role did you play there?
Just playing basically a third-line role, bringing energy and speed to the line and being safe defensively. That was basically it. My role was very different from what it was with the Ontario Reign. It was different.
Was it a similar role to the one you played in Binghamton?
In Binghamton, in that organization, I just – I’m still confused as to why they even bothered signing me. They signed me to sit on the bench and cheer. I didn’t really have a role on that team. I played fourth line and that was it. In Manchester, they let my play my game. That’s how you know you build confidence. Being a veteran, being around, you pick up a lot over the years. It was definitely a great experience. I was excited to be back in the American Hockey League. I took it as another shot.
Prior to that, how do you look at your time in Ontario?
It was definitely, playing under Karl was something new. I’m used to playing more a defensive style play. I’m used to playing an open game, uptempo, offensively high-tempo type game. Playing under Karl at the beginning was kind of difficult, because everything was basically defense. After a while it opened up. Once you get comfortable, things start to happen. I started shooting the puck, it goes in the net, my confidence goes up.
I think I could’ve – I think I did well. I could have done a lot better, but I think being in the situation that we were in, standings wise and everything, all the other stuff, I think it was OK. Definitely not an easy situation for me, on ice and off ice, I had a lot of – I’m still dealing with a lot of personal issues. On-ice, losing a lot, I’m not used to that. I’m definitely not used to not making the playoffs.
What were you dealing with off the ice?
I was dealing with custody of my daughter. One of those types of things. It was a new experience, but hard at the same time. On and off the ice. On the ice, it was an adjustment. Getting beat a lot, having the worst record in the league and at home is not fun. Losing is not fun, but it’s something that happened. We can’t hide. We just were bad and that’s what happened.
What’s your explanation for the turnaround at the end?
I guess they were playing with that ‘I don’t care’ mentality. It took away a lot of fun losing at the beginning. My role on the team definitely got bigger when a guy like Jeff Corey left our team, and Franny getting hurt – more leaders. At the time, some guys that had a little more impact. Because Karl knew them a little more than he knew me, toward the end my leadership, on-ice leadership, definitely took a bigger role. That’s why I started to pick it up toward the end.
Where do you see yourself next season?
Hopefully I can get a shot in the American League and go from there. Just right now, I’m just enjoying my time at home and trying to get down to Elmira as much as I can to spend time with my daughter. I’m entertaining offers from other teams in the East Coast league right now. I’m trying to pick the best opportunity for myself.
How many offers?
I’ve had two teams call me. I’m pretty sure over the next month or two, month and a half, I’m sure more teams would be calling. I’ll just take it day by day.
Because of the situation with your daughter, do you want to be closer to Elmira?
No. I’ve been in Elmira for 2 ½ years. It didn’t work out. My situation is coming to an end. It doesn’t really matter where I play hockey.
Would you like to be in the East at least?
I don’t know. A team that could definitely help me get to the American League as quick as possible would be great. Money-wise too. We’ll see what happens. Right now, I don’t know. May 11, it’s still really early, so I know the phones will pick up within the next month.
I’m a veteran. I can put the puck in the net. I definitely could help a team out and def get up to the American League given that opportunity.
So is Ontario a possibility?
I don’t know, to be honest with you. I played the year in Ontario and I loved it. I don’t rule it out. It is kind of hard getting called up from Ontario to the American League, but who knows. If we had more of a winning team, maybe guys would’ve been called up quicker. A lot of times, American League GMs go to teams that were winning. We weren’t winning so a lot of guys didn’t get called up. I look at a guy like Dusty Collins, who gets called up by Manitoba, comes back, doesn’t get called up, then he gets traded to Florida. Then he gets called up by Toronto, Oklahoma City – he gets called up by everybody.
Ontario is far from a lot of American League teams. I definitely do think I should have gotten called up a lot earlier in the season. I think a couple guys on our team should’ve gotten called up. Why not? I don’t know. I definitely never rule Ontario out, going back there. I just don’t know. I have to see what’s been the best for me when it comes to that opportunity.
Have you heard from Karl?
No, I haven’t spoke to Karl. I spoke to Karl the day after the trade deadline. He told me he’d love to have me back, but he never protected a veteran and it doesn’t make sense for him to protect a veteran because he can’t hold on to my rights anyways. But he did text me and asked me how I was doing, and I never got back to him. I don’t know. If he calls, he calls. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. You know. It’s just one of those things.
When did he text you?
Probably three weeks ago. I’ve just been really, really on the go. I just got back from Elmira, actually. I haven’t really been in Montreal, just back and forth from Elmira with my daughter, trying to spend time with her.