It had been 14 years since Eric Johansson last skated at Toyota Center.
This week, the former Tri-City Americans forward has helped out at the team’s camp along with former Americans captain Alex Aldred.
“It changed for the better, for sure,” Johansson said of the Americans’ accommodations at Toyota Center since he played with the team.
“The stuff the young guys are doing, it is nonstop,” he added. “It is 100 percent commitment to get to the NHL, or wherever they want to be.”
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Johansson and Aldred have been in contact with Americans general manager Bob Tory over the years, and they were asked if they would like to help with camp this fall.
“Having guest coaches at training camp is a common practice in professional football,” Tory said in a news release. “With our large rosters during training camp, this approach gives our players more one-on-one interaction with our coaching staff. This is also an opportunity for both former players (Aldred and Johansson) to grow and gain experience as coaches as they both transition into coaching in the future.”
Americans co-owner Stu Barnes and longtime NHL forward Adam Deadmarsh also will work with the players at camp. Johansson and Aldred will finish up Sunday, while Deadmarsh is expected to be on the ice Monday.
Johansson, an Edmonton, Alberta, native, played four seasons (1998-2002) for the Americans before starting a long pro career that spanned the AHL, ECHL and 11 years in Europe.
He currently does not have a contract to play, but he hopes one comes his way soon.
“Camp starts Aug. 1 in Europe,” Johansson said. “It worked out that I was able to come down and help out. I still have the itch (to play). I was told to keep playing as long as I can. It’s been quite the ride. You don’t want to take it for granted.”
Johansson, 34, played last season with Riessersee SC in Germany before a concussion and inner ear injury ended his season early.
With a clean bill of health, he’s hoping to hear from a team soon, if nothing else, for his family — wife Karin and sons Oliver, 8, Lukas, 6, and Jacob, 4. They have come to enjoy the European lifestyle and skiing in the winter.
“It’s getting pretty hectic nowadays,” Johansson said. “They are getting into hockey, and they like to ski. Some of the places we’ve gotten to see are pretty nice. They even speak German.”
A first-round bantam pick (fourth overall) by Tri-City in 1997, Johansson’s best season was 2001-02, when he scored 44 goals and finished with 103 points. He was the last Tri-City player to score more than 100 points until Brendan Shinnimin (134 points), Adam Hughesman (116) and Patrick Holland (109) hit the century mark during the 2011-12 season.
“That’s impressive for all three to have done that in one season,” Johansson said.
Aldred spent three years with the Portland Winterhawks and was coached by current Tri-City coach Mike Williamson before being traded to the Americans at the start of the 2005-06 season. He served as team captain for the 2006-07 season.
In two years with the Americans, he played 124 games, scoring 23 goals with 58 assists under coach Don Nachbaur.
The St. Albert, Alberta, native then played three years at the University of New Brunswick.
“CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) is a pretty good league,” said Aldred, who graduated with a degree in sociology. “There are a lot of former Americans who have played at U of A (University of Alberta) and have gone on to do good things. I used the education package, and my school was paid for.”
Aldred, 30, has made a few visits to the Tri-Cities over the years, but being on the ice again has been pretty special.
“All the memories flooded right back when we were ripping up and down the ice,” Aldred said. “I never thought I’d be back out there. It’s good to be around the rink, but you just can’t call up the boys like you used to.”
Aldred has enjoyed working with the young players this week, except for one thing.
“Being here, I don’t feel too young anymore,” he said. “Dan Nachbaur (Don Nachbaur’s 20-year-old son) came in and introduced himself. He was like 8 or 9 when I was here.”
Aldred will begin coaching the KC minor midget team in Edmonton this season, and he has gotten plenty of practice working at the Athletic Academy in St. Albert.
“I work with kids after school throughout the school year,” Aldred said. “My parents own a dog boarding kennel, so I work there in the morning and at the academy in the afternoon.”
After spending several days working with the young players, Johansson and Aldred both were impressed with the level of talent in the Americans’ program.
“I’m not going to lie, some of these guys weren’t born when we started (in the Western Hockey League),” Johansson said. “I like the confidence they play with, and that they come in a little cocky and play with an edge.”
Aldred expanded on Johansson’s thought.
“At their age, they are so good,” he said. “They are mature, fast, strong, and they have a good shot.”