Former Penguins goaltender eyes career as a coach

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Brent Johnson is quick to admit that last season could have gone better for him.

A lot better, frankly.

His succinct assessment: "I had a subpar year last year, to say the least."

Johnson also understands that he's the guy most, if not solely, responsible for that.

It's no surprise, then, that he doesn't begrudge the Penguins' decision to sever their ties to him this spring, and to bring in Tomas Vokoun as Marc-Andre Fleury's goaltending partner.

But despite all that went wrong in 2011-12, when he had a 6-7-2 record, 3.11 goals-against average and .883 save percentage in 16 appearances, Johnson isn't ready to walk away from the game.

It doesn't matter that he's 35 years old or that he didn't receive any particularly promising expressions of interest from other clubs after becoming an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Johnson is convinced he still can be effective at the game's highest level and is hoping some team will give him an opportunity to prove it.

That is why he has been a regular at the Penguins' informal workouts at Southpointe the past few weeks, honing his game for any chance that might develop when -- OK, if -- the NHL lockout ends and teams fill out their depth charts for the 2012-13 season.

"I'm going to stay ready," Johnson said after the Tuesday session. "Just because my time's done here in Pittsburgh doesn't mean it's done everywhere.

"I'll just continue to stay ready. Stay sharp, as much as possible."

Johnson was Fleury's backup for the past three seasons and outperformed him at various points. But he sputtered throughout last season and missed a 17-game stretch for medical reasons, so management concluded he had to be replaced.

And made certain that Johnson knew early on that he no longer had a place in its plans.

"The great thing about the whole process is that everyone was up-front," Johnson said. "There was no 'Maybe, we'll see ... ' It was good, and I truly, truly appreciate that.

"[General manager] Ray Shero is an absolute class act and he's always treated me with great respect, and vice versa, from me to him.

"I love this organization -- wish I could be a part of it, still -- but we'll see where the future road lies."

He's hoping, of course, that his future involves wearing an NHL uniform.

There's no assurance that will happen, however, so Johnson has spent at least a little time contemplating his post-playing options.

Not surprising, for a guy with his knowledge of the position and personable nature, he is interested in becoming a goalie coach, or, perhaps, in teaching younger players how to play goal.

To that end, ha has been thinking about organizing a hockey school for aspiring goaltenders in the near future, ideally before the NHL comes out of its deep freeze.

"I've kind of been floating the idea of maybe doing a couple of hockey schools here in the area, specifically for goalies," he said. "If anyone from the team wanted to jump on board [and broaden the school's focus], that would be great, while we're all sitting here waiting.

"If [the season is canceled] or if I don't get a job, I kind of want to put my foot in the door with that kind of thing, just see how I am."

The excellent relationship he had with Fleury and goaltending coach Gilles Meloche -- "I want to continue that," Johnson said -- seemed to provide at least some of the impetus for him to consider a career teaching his job to others.

He also offered that "I think I have the brain for hockey," and there can be no question about his bloodlines.

He is, after all, the son of former NHL goalie Bob Johnson, who spent time with the Penguins, and the grandson of Hockey Hall of Famer Sid Abel.

Still, Johnson's emphasis for now is on keeping an edge on his game, on being ready to capitalize on any opportunity to extend his playing career that might present itself this winter.

"If something happens here [to end the lockout] in the near future where they call everyone back and training camp [begins] ... if I get a job, that would be just wonderful," he said.

"For my family, for myself, I want to keep going."

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Dave Molinari: and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published October 31, 2012 4:00 AM


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