For Francis Johnson Jr., being a part of hosting next week’s Coy Cup Senior Men’s AA Hockey Championship in the lakecity will be a treat.
The 41-year-old Williams Lake Stampeders veteran, and the entire Stamps roster, will have Johnson Jr.’s dad, Francis Johnson Sr., drumming from the stands and cheering them on as he has since Johnson Jr. first laced up his skates with the team roughly 20 years ago.
“I was about 20 years old when I started, then I took five years off to go to school,” Johnson Jr. said, noting he received a degree in Natural Resource Sciences from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops and is now a professional forester for Alkali Resource Management.
“My dad got his master’s degree in education, and he’s always been an inspiration for me to go to university.”
This will be Johnson Jr.’s ninth time competing at a Coy Cup. Throughout the years, Johnson has captured several season scoring records for the Stamps, along with league scoring titles.
And when the team hosts the Terrace River Kings, the Kelowna Sparta and the Dawson Creek Canucks March 27-31 at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex to decide B.C.’s senior men’s AA champion, Johnson Jr. will be there to play.
“It’s just a time where you can enjoy a whole week of playing hockey,” he said. “You can take a week off work, focus on that and enjoy hanging out with the team and really get to know people.
“As far as the Coy Cup tournament goes, Williams Lake as hosts has been the best Coy Cup I’ve been to.”
Johnson Jr. added he’ll be proud to represent First Nations people on the ice.
“Williams Lake has been the only place where First Nations people and the culture was included in the opening ceremonies of the tournament,” he said. “It just shows how diverse we are here, and I like that a lot.”
Heading in as one of the team’s veterans, Johnson Jr. said his decision to play again this year had a lot to do with his wife, Roxanne, and his five children.
“My kids really wanted me to play again and be that role model for them,” he said.
“You’re kind of trying to hang on to your youth and get exercise, and I really missed being with the guys.”
A member of the Esketemc First Nation (Alkali), Johnson Jr. noted the community has a rich hockey history and pointed to the likes of Alkali Braves legend Alec Antoine as one of his biggest inspirations.
Asked whether this will be his last season with the Stamps, Johnson Jr. said he isn’t making any decisions just yet.
“I’m not looking to next year,” he said. “I’m never going to quit playing hockey, and playing competitively is something I enjoy.”
His dad, meanwhile, believes the team is poised for its fourth Coy Cup championship win after having watched them all season long.
“In 2009 when they first won, I saw that the team was ready,” Johnson Sr. said. “I saw it, I still can see it. When they first won it was lucky I didn’t break down. I was so happy, and I have a very good feeling they’re hitting their peak.”
Of watching his son grow up playing hockey, he recalls a time where Johnson Jr. was told he’d never be able to play hockey again after breaking his arm twice.
“He came back after that and scored nine goals in one game, and he was disappointed they lost 10-9,” he said.
“This year, I think they’re ready, and it’s good to see all the First Nations boys on the team.”
Normally perched in the mezzanine at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex, Johnson Sr. said he’ll be cheering his loudest during this year’s tournament.
“I drum for them, I go on the road, and I enjoy it,” he said. “I get to hang out with all of them, and get to know a lot of the guys on the team. They’re all really, really good friends and that’s what makes a team work.
“I never had a minor hockey career but it was always something I encouraged the young people to play.”
Having his dad as his biggest fan, meanwhile, is something Johnson Jr. will always cherish.
“I feel privileged my dad is able to watch me, and my teammates tell me the same,” Johnson Jr. said.
“I feel blessed he comes and enjoys the games and him being able to come watch his grandkids now and tell the stories - it makes the grandkids proud, too.”
The Stampeders play their tournament opener on Tuesday, March 27 at 8 p.m., following the opening ceremonies, against the Terrace River Kings.
They then face the Dawson Creek Canucks at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 28, before closing out the round robin against the Kelowna Sparta on Thursday, March 29 at 8 p.m.
The tournament semifinal takes place on Friday, March 30 at 8 p.m., with the championship to hit the ice at the CMRC on Saturday, March 31 at 8 p.m. between the first-place round robin winner, and the semi-final winner.