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Jack Johnson calls participation in Olympics opening ceremony 'coolest thing I've ever done'

The Kings defenseman makes the whirlwind trip to the Vancouver Games with family between Thursday's and Saturday's NHL games.

February 14, 2010|By Kevin Baxter

Kings defenseman Jack Johnson returned to Los Angeles about 2:30 a.m. Saturday, his whirlwind trip to Vancouver for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics leaving him both exhausted and inspired.

"It was a great experience. Probably the coolest thing I've ever done," said Johnson, the first American NHL player to take part in the opening ceremony in Winter Olympics history. "It was worth every minute of it to get there. It was everything I thought it would be. And more."

But making it there required some sacrifice -- and a good deal of planning. Less than seven hours after the Kings' shootout loss to Edmonton on Thursday, Johnson was heading to the airport for a two-hour charter flight to Washington state with his parents and younger brother. From there, a hired driver took them 50 miles across the border to the Olympic Village.

Johnson said he marched in the opening ceremony alongside snowboarder Shaun White, then sat in the stands with members of the U.S. speedskating team. Once the four-hour festival finished, he made the drive back to Washington and caught a charter flight home to make the Kings' 10 a.m. practice Saturday.

"The whole ceremony was incredible," said Johnson, who had the team's blessing to participate even though it meant missing Friday's workout. "From start to finish there wasn't a dull moment in the entire thing. I took as much video and photos as I could.

"It was something I'll remember the rest of my life."

Not everyone was as excited about Johnson's trip, however. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, a fellow U.S. Olympian, said he never considered taking part in the Parade of Nations.

"It would be nice, but I've got a different view there," he said. "I'm with this team and I've got to do my best to get ready for Saturday. Just leave it at that."

Family affair

Rookie forward Rich Clune, who made his NHL debut in the loss to Edmonton, said his father, Tom, and 17-year-old brother, Ben, were expected in Los Angeles for his second game Saturday. Fifteen friends and family members gathered at his father's house to watch Thursday's game, which Clune called "awesome."

"At one point during the game I kind of looked around during a TV timeout [and] it kind of set that I was playing in the NHL," the 22-year-old from Toronto said. "Pretty emotional."

He expects that getting the chance to share his second game with family members will be no less special.

"It was probably just as much a thrill for them to see me play as it was for me," he said. "I got so much help from my family and my extended family."

Help wanted

With Quick's Olympic deployment likely to keep him in Canada beyond the Kings' return to practice Feb. 24, Coach Terry Murray said he will probably hire a local goaltender for the first few days of workouts.

And while Murray corrected himself after referring to the first practice after the Olympic break as "training camp," he said that term is probably appropriate.

"That's my mind-set," he said. "It would be a mini training camp again, absolutely."

Jones returns

Defenseman Randy Jones dressed for a game Saturday for the first time since Feb. 4. Jones, who sat out the last half of December because of an upper-body injury, had played in only nine of the Kings' last 24 games before Saturday.

"He's been working very hard in practice, so it's time to play a game before the break," Murray said.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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