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Castle Park High School roller hockey coach leads by example Phillip Brents | Fri, Jan 27 2012 02:35 PM

During his playing days at Eastlake High School (2001-05), Patrick Johnson tasted a great deal of success. The Titans’ roller hockey team established itself as one of the CIF-Metro Conference’s top shelf programs by rolling to 50 regular season victories (an overall 50-32-2 record) during Johnson’s four years on the team.

He was named the team’s Rookie of the Year as a freshman and the team’s Defenseman of the Year as a junior and senior.

He may have received the best honor by being named to the conference’s all-star team as a senior.

He was the proverbial “regular guy” on the team, but with one noticeable exception:

His right arm ends just below the elbow due to a congenital birth defect.

What might seem like a disadvantage to some has turned into an advantage for Johnson, now 24 and a 2009 graduate of the University of San Francisco.

“I hold the stick slightly different but skating is the same,” he said. “I’ve been the fastest skater on just about every team I’ve played on.”

Johnson, who began playing at age 8 at Chula Vista RollerSkateLand, was thrust into the national spotlight by competing at the 2012 NARCh West Coast Winternationals Jan. 13-16 in San Jose. It was the first Winternationals tournament for Johnson, and it likely won’t be his last.

He attracted the attention of NARCh President Daryn Goodwin, a fellow San Diegan, during the 134-team tournament. After watching several men’s games, it finally dawned on Goodwin that one of the players on the court had only one arm.

The NARCh head honcho was so inspired by what he saw — Johnson had the only goal of the game up to that point — that Goodwin made a special entry in the tournament’s online blog to call attention to the feat.

“The reason that I didn’t notice (at first) is because he’s damned good … Way to go Pat Johnson, you’re awesome!” Goodwin wrote.

They were words read around the world.

The NARCh Winternationals attract the top teams from around the globe and usher in the start of the 2012 club roller hockey season. Teams from Hawaii, Nevada, British Colombia and Brazil joined the lion’s share of entries from California.

Johnson played for No Green Cards Brasil, a Brazilian entry in the mega-tournament.

“I had never met them before but it was interesting,” Johnson said of the experience. “They were seven guys from Brazil, including the goalie.”

How did a kid from Chula Vista wind up playing with a bunch of Brazilians at a world-class event?

“They had an ad on Facebook asking for players and I answered it,” Johnson said, smiling.

Johnson and a local hockey-playing friend, Omid Arjomand, joined the Brazilians in San Jose. The team played four games in the Men’s Silver/Bronze Division, tying one and dropping three contests.

Johnson scored three goals for the team.

“Their style was completely different from what I was used to,” Johnson said. “They play a very defensive, slow-down game and we were used to playing a much more open, attacking game.”

Johnson, who never played club travel hockey during his high school days, would like to return to the NARCh playing experience by forming a team from San Diego to compete in July’s NARCh Finals, the world’s largest amateur roller hockey tournament, also scheduled in San Jose.

Then and now
Johnson’s playing ability has been honed by years of adaptation. He carries his stick over the incomplete limb, tucked under his right shoulder, using his left hand to swing it.

During his high school years, then EHS coach Jeff Mechling had no qualms about playing Johnson in critical game situations, even sending the freshman out to kill penalties.

“When he first came out for the team, I was concerned about some limitations in his ability to hold the stick properly,” Mechling said at the time. “He’s learned to adapt to the point where you don’t even notice it. I have the same expectations of him as any other player.”

A decade later, Johnson has the same expectations from his players as a first-year coach at Castle Park High School. He would like to see his team turn in a successful finish to the current season.
At 4-10, the Trojans have already matched last season’s win total.

“We basically just want to be competitive in our final six South Bay League games against Mar Vista, Southwest, Chula Vista and Sweetwater,” the CPHS coach said. “We’d like to finish with a winning record in those six games and carry that over into next season.”

Included among the Trojans’ 10 losses were overtime setbacks to Sweetwater and Chula Vista and a two-goal loss to Bonita Vista, all which make the team’s overall record somewhat deceiving.

Standouts have been leading scorers David Anderson and Juan Luna and goaltender Carlos Penny. Anderson entered the week fifth overall in conference scoring with 43 goals and 52 points. Luna, the school’s quarterback and place-kicker during the football season, ranked second on the team with 19 goals and 26 points.

Coaching at Castle Park has been an eye-opening experience for Johnson, who has now added world-class to his roller hockey playing resume.

“It’s been rough sometimes,” he said. “This isn’t like Eastlake where the kids already have some kind of hockey experience. Here at Castle Park, some kids are first-year players and have never played the sport before. But overall, it’s been a lot of fun. The team has improved tremendously.”

And so has its coach.

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