116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — He loves being part of such a big family.
Such special memories.
“We’ve spent our whole lives together,” Isaac Johnson said. “Played three years together on the high school team, which was so much fun. He was a D (defenseman), I was a forward. Sometimes he would assist on my goals, and I’d assist on his. Just a lot of fun.”
Then there was another older brother, Peter, who at 23 is six years his senior. Peter Johnson played junior hockey in the NAHL and NA3HL and helped instill the love of the game in Isaac when he was a kid.
“You know, it’s actually a funny story,” Isaac said. “We had an outdoor rink at our house that my dad built, and Peter would have us conditioning and working on skills. My dad would (eventually) have to come out and say ‘That’s probably enough.’”
It was difficult for Isaac Johnson to move on from his tight-knit family, his very small hometown, his high school for his senior year. Dalton, Minn., had an official population of 215 in 2020, is about a 15-minute drive from the “big city” of Fergus Falls (population 14,000).
But he’s got hockey goals and knew he needed to move up a level or two to achieve them. Move away from home to achieve them.
That’s why he originally accepted a tender to play for the New Mexico Ice Wolves of the NAHL. He came to RoughRiders tryout camp over the summer as an unheralded, undrafted guy in the United States Hockey League, making a large enough impression to get an invite to fall camp.
He ended up making the team.
“It took a lot of difficult decisions on what was right for me,” Johnson said. “It was a really hard decision to leave all your buddies, your town, but it just felt like the right thing for my development, moving into the junior world.
“It’s kind of nice living in Ely (with his billet family) because it feels small. It’s still a little bigger than my hometown in Minnesota. (Dalton) is a good place. A pretty cool community. A lot of lakes in our area.”
Johnson had goals in back-to-back games last weekend for the RoughRiders, who play Friday and Saturday night at Muskegon. He’s got a lot of upside as a player, already a lot of high character as a kid.
There’s a lot to like there overall.
“I think he’s done a really good job” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson. “I think a big reason for that is he works extremely hard. He’s a second, third-effort type player. I think that’s the biggest reason why he’s been able to feel real good about his game so far.”
“It’s been good, a lot of fun getting to know the guys and getting some games in at The Stable,” Johnson said. “I’d say just things like passing and the speed of the game is something I’ve had to adjust to, but the more you play, you feel like you get more comfortable. Junior hockey is kind of a job, I guess. You’re at the rink all day. But, yeah, it’s been good.”
Johnson was asked to describe himself as a player.
“I’d say I take a lot of pride in playing below the dots in the offensive zone,” he said. “I think I’ve got pretty good speed, a good hockey IQ, I try to see the ice well. The defensive side of the puck is obviously a big deal. I take pride in that, working hard in the D zone and blocking shots.”
“He works down low. He gets around the rink pretty good,” Carlson said. “We’ve got a long way to go here. But for his age and his experience level, he’s proven to be pretty well-rounded for this time of year.“
Johnson’s father, Mark, is a pastor who serves three separate Lutheran churches in the Dalton area. Faith is a major part of his life, as you’d imagine.
Something he leaned on when deciding to leave home.
“It’s a big thing for me. It’s important, that side of it,” he said. “That was a big part in my decision. Sometimes we’d sit around the table and just pray about it, see what God had to say and lead.
“It just felt right.”