By Jim Sullivan
---- — NEWBURY — Four years ago, Newbury’s Taylor Johnson didn’t even know how to skate. Today, she is a defenseman for the Austin Prep girls hockey team, playing as a freshman.
“Most girls start at the age of 5, and she missed all that,” said Cougars coach Stephanie Wood. “That speaks a lot for her character that she has been able to progress as far as she has. She is very driven to succeed.”
In fact, Wood started skating at 11 after being told by her softball coach that she should look into hockey. She hit the Graf Rink, working with a figure skater to learn the basics, then went to the Micro Ice Training Center in Andover with the goal of getting on the Triton Pee-Wee hockey team in the 2009 season.
“People said, ‘Oh, I don’t think she’s ready,’” says Johnson. “And then I said, ‘I am going to prove them wrong.’”
Taylor’s grandfather, Paul Johnson, has always told her that practice makes perfect, and she took that to heart enough to make the unisex squad on the first try.
“I was pretty excited and proud of myself that I pushed myself that hard and made the team,” Johnson says of making the Pee-Wee team so quickly. She played for a year, then headed for the U12 Islanders Hockey Club where she would meet Wood.
“When I first met her, she was very, very new to hockey,” Wood said of her first impressions of Johnson. “So it was essentially kind of building from the ground up as far as hockey ability and skill. With her, though, she picked it up so fast, she is such a hard worker, a driven person that she has been able to progress through steps that it has taken other girls years to. Now she’s made her way to my girls varsity team here at Austin Prep and is getting regular ice time.”
But Johnson didn’t simply make the Cougars, she had to try out like everyone else.
“A lot of people tried out,” said Johnson. “So the first cut happened, then the second cut, then the third cut, and then (Wood) told me to get off the ice. I had made it. That was pretty scary.”
Johnson made yet another squad, this time with the Central Catholic League, fronting for senior goalie Shannon O’Neil.
“I think it’s pretty incredible that, just a couple of years ago, I was just learning how to skate,” said Johnson, who also made the varsity soccer team as an eighth-grader at St. Mary’s in Lynn as well as the men’s varsity golf team. “Now I’m playing at a high school level and actually getting ice time, (and) I‘m doing pretty well, I’m keeping up. I hold my own out there.”
Wood adds that Johnson has a natural defender’s mentality and that she should progress well over the next few years.
“She certainly has blossomed into that role very, very well,” Wood said of Johnson’s take on defense. “She’s got a great shot from the point.”
Mike Boyle of Mike Boyle’s Strength and Conditioning in Woburn has been working with Johnson since the past summer, and he believes it is her ability to play multiple sports that helps her to stand out.
“She is a really good athlete,” says Boyle. “That is one of the things that is, in a lot of ways, missing in ice hockey. So that is what I think is helping her. She can play softball, she can play golf, she can play soccer, she is in athlete. You can see it right away.”
“The way kids are now, you get kids that are playing just that one sport,” Boyle said. “And I think sometimes that’s why the pyramid ends up getting smaller. You don’t get a kid who is a good athlete, you get a kid who is a good soccer player or hockey player or whatever it is. I think that sometimes, it is better for these kids to get a broader base in sports. It makes the potential higher.”
Johnson has also worked with local hockey legend Eddie Hill at his clinic at the Graf, and should be with the Cougars (5-3-3) for another three years, then it’s off to college and she has definite plans there.
“I want to play Division 1 hockey in college,” Johnson said. “So, I’m going to keep on practicing and working hard and hopefully it pays off.”