Rock the Microphone Mike Johnson has made the transition from player to broadcaster appear seamless. By Daniel Horowitz | Photography by Kevin Gonsalves
Shakespeare penned the line, "The play's the thing,"
it's doubtful he was thinking about hockey.
But Willy's artful declaration and the history's
greatest game have found common ground through one
man. That's because for former NHL
player-turned-broadcaster, Mike Johnson, to "play" was
Johnson, a skater once regarded as one of the
speediest to ever grace the rinks of the pro hockey,
racked up more than 650 games for the Toronto Maple
Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Phoenix Coyotes, Montreal
Canadiens and St. Louis Blues.
his NHL career wound down after suffering a
shoulder injury in 2007, Johnson crossed the
pond for a brief stint in Germany, before
wrapping up with two seasons at the CCHA's
University of Notre Dame.
Today, it's likely that the "play-by-play" is
the "thing" for the 37-year-old Scarborough,
Ontario native, who recently launched a
successful career behind the microphone.
And based on the early returns, it's hard to
believe that Johnson, now a hockey analyst on
TSN and the NHL Network, didn't receive any
"My only real training, as my wife would gladly
tell you, is that I watch a lot of sports on
television," he says with a laugh.
Ironically, after starting his hockey career
with four productive seasons at Bowling Green
University -- where he received a degree in
finance during his off-ice hours -- Johnson
never "banked" on a job as a broadcaster.
Although he's clearly appreciative of the new
opportunity: "Broadcasting was always something
on my mind, but not something I ever planned on
doing," says Johnson, who, along with wife
Martha, are the proud parents of two girls,
Taylor, 7 and Mackenzie, 5.
"I had done some stuff for various television
stations during the NHL playoffs in the past
because, well, unfortunately, the teams I played
on were seldom still playing in mid-April. So, I
got some experience doing that and I really
enjoyed it. Whether or not I was any good at it
could certainly be up for debate.
"So, when I decided to retire, I spent that
first summer relaxing, mostly playing golf.
Then, in the fall, I was about to go to work in
the financial arena. I figured I'd just
completely backtrack after 15 years and try to
do what I had originally gone to university
But, as it so often does in the world of
Shakespeare, fate intervened, and the financial
sector's loss was hockey fans' gain. Johnson got
a fortuitous call to fill in as a sports radio
host, a call that soon led to another job. The
die was cast.
"Eventually, those smaller jobs led to an NHL
Network opportunity, which eventually led to the
TSN job," says the articulate Johnson. "So,
while I always knew I would like to do something
in broadcasting, I never really had a game-plan;
it just sort of happened for me, and I know that
I was quite fortunate to have this opportunity."
And Johnson has made
the most of that opportunity, applying a thinking-man's approach to
describing the action on the ice with a level headed calmness, honesty,
and just the right amount of enthusiasm.
But compliment his skill and he'll admit that his broadcasting talents are
still a work in progress.
think it's going well so far," he says. "It's like playing hockey, or like
any other job. There are always challenges and there are always things to
learn and things to improve upon. I'm working my way through it, refining
things as I go. I like working in studios, I love doing the games and I
really enjoy the bantering back and forth."
Like his days as a player, Johnson will often review videos of his latest
broadcasts, looking for ways to improve his craft.
"It's similar to watching game tapes when I played, I try to pick out
things that I like, things that I didn't like, and things that I can
improve on," he explains. "Then, I just try to do better the next time
out. Today, I also find myself watching and listening to the commentators
when I watch a game, far more than I used to. I never really did that
before. I try to be myself, offer what insight I find unique, and shed
light on why or how something may have happened on the ice."
Like anyone whose job includes criticizing friends or former co-workers,
Johnson found that the most challenging aspect of making the transition
from the ice up to the broadcast booth.
"Definitely, it was really hard, especially at the beginning, dealing with
old friends, coaches and teammates that I was commenting about on the
air," he explains. "Especially when I have to comment on players I know
are much better on the ice than I ever was. For me, suggesting something
that say, Jonathan Toews should have done differently on any given play,
or point out a bad decision he might have made, I'm doing so with the full
realization that he's a much better hockey player than me. But,
eventually, I came to the realization that my job is to offer my opinion
and I started to learn that it's okay. I strongly believe that if I say
something on television of on the radio about a player, it's something
that I would be comfortable saying to that player's face, even if they
disagreed with it. I think most players respect that and are comfortable
with it for the most part. It's just part of my job."
Even though he's maneuvered from the rink to the sound booth, Johnson's
professional goals (not the red light variety) still reflect a
professional athlete's desire to compete at the highest level, no matter
what the field.
"I've achieved a lot of goals, but I guess I'd say that I'd love to call a
Stanley Cup Final or an Olympic Games," he explains. "To be on that stage,
with an appreciation of how good those athletes are to be in that
situation, would be great. The thing I miss the most about not playing
hockey is that competitiveness. Nobody gets to be a professional athlete
without being very competitive and I was -- and still am -- as competitive
as anyone regardless of what I'm doing whether it's golf, cards or even
Mike Johnson is proof personified that while you can take the broadcaster
out of the hockey player, you can never take the hockey player out of the
broadcaster. And for viewers of TSN or the NHL Network, that is good news.
For fans of the Bard, on the other hand, it's probably a bit of a non