Johnson Strives for Consistency

The streaky junior has struggled with his scoring ups and downs

Fresh off a frustrating end to the 2003-2004 season, junior forward Charlie Johnson had withstood about as much as he could handle from the month of March.

In the Crimson’s postseason run last year, Johnson recorded just three points in the team’s seven March games, going point-less in four of them and finishing the postseason without a goal.

The frustration was warranted. In the regular-season finale against Dartmouth just a week earlier, Johnson had tallied two goals in a 4-0 rout of the Big Green.

His former coach, Mark Mazzoleni, called him a difference-maker, and Johnson no doubt saw the validity of the title after another two-goal performance against UMass two months earlier.

Difference-maker he was. Consistent he was not.

Those four goals against the Minutemen and Big Green comprised almost half of his 2003-2004 total—he had nine goals on the season—and he watched his point production slide from 20 to 14 in his sophomore campaign.

Last year, he endured a four-game pointless streak in the middle of the season. During his freshman year, Johnson followed up a two-point performance against Rensselaer with a five-game offensive drought.

“You get frustrated and you start thinking about it too much,” Johnson said. “You start doing things out of the ordinary. You start trying to push it too hard. You start trying to force it when you’re out there.”

Johnson sought a new title as a junior, a freshly minted upperclassman in a senior-laden system. Difference-maker was fine. Mr. Consistency was better.

But after tallying an assist in the team’s season opener, a 2-2 tie against Brown, Johnson experienced the all-too-familiar and all-too-frustrating disappearing act. Four games later, that sole point was all that stood in his offensive stat column.

“Things haven’t exactly gone totally smoothly all year,” Johnson said. “They’ve been up and down.”

In the midst of these vacillations, however, one thing has remained irrefutable: when Charlie Johnson is up, the Crimson usually is, too.

Johnson starred during the week in which the Crimson dispatched then-No. 10 Vermont and then-No. 11 Maine, tallying three points—including a third-period goal against the Black Bears that put Harvard up an untouchable 4-0.

“Charlie is a huge part of this team, especially on offense,” assistant captain Tom Cavanagh said. He’s a guy who really gives us a huge force up front, so when he’s playing well, the team’s playing well.”

And as of now, Cavanagh’s words ring true. The Crimson is riding the wave of Johnson’s current hot streak, during which he has recorded 12 points in 14 games. Since an 8-1 thrashing of Union on Feb. 1, Johnson has scored six goals and Harvard has a 9-4-1 record.

In three of those losses—2-1 overtime setbacks against Northeastern and Dartmouth and the Crimson’s 3-1 defeat in the ECAC title game—Johnson didn’t register a point. In the nine wins, he’s had 10.

“Charlie is a very gifted and talented player,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “And a very important part of our team. Offensively, it seems to come in bunches for Charlie. But I think he has the talent and skill level to be one of the best guys on the ice every night.”

Johnson showed that talent in a Feb. 11 win over Rensselaer, when he scored the game’s first two goals and helped the Crimson to a 3-0 road victory.

And with each game growing more important in Harvard’s quest for an NCAA title, the Crimson has been more than happy to take advantage of Johnson’s offensive resurgence.

“This is the time when goals are usually scarce—in the playoffs, coming down the stretch,” Johnson said. “We need all the scoring we can get. The games are getting more important. Every game is intense. When we’re in that situation, it’s easier for me to get into the game and get a rhythm going.”

The surge has propelled Johnson into a tie for the team’s third-leading point scorer and transformed him into a consistent source of offense, a role the junior has sought throughout his three years on the ice at Harvard.

He has yet to master season-long consistency, but the recent spurt has given both Johnson and his teammates high hopes heading into the NCAA tournament.

“He’s important to our club and certainly he’s picked up some of the slack for our scoring over the last 10 games,” Donato said. “It will be important that he continues to be a major factor for us.”

Important? With five of Harvard’s nine losses coming when Johnson goes scoreless, and the win-or-go-home philosophy of late-season tournaments now in effect, “necessary” is a more applicable word. With just 3:59 remaining in the ECAC semifinal on March 18, it was—not surprisingly—Johnson who scored the Crimson’s second goal to temporarily push Harvard back into the lead in its eventual 4-3 double-overtime victory.

And it seems that after three years of topsy-turvy play, Johnson has found his groove when both he and his teammates need it most.

The NCAA field contains no unanimous favorite and the Crimson has felled four top-10 teams over the course of its season. Johnson’s offensive play, coupled with goalkeeper Dov Grumet-Morris’ play in the net, make Harvard justifiably confident heading into its first round matchup with New Hampshire.

And that added responsibility, that understanding that his team needs him—that’s fine with Johnson.

“Down the stretch it’s going to be important that the upperclassmen to take the reins because we’re the ones that everyone is counting on to perform,” Johnson said. “And I’ve been trying to get it going the entire year. It just happens that it started clicking now.”

He’s yet to be Mr. Consistency, but right now, Johnson is more than happy to assume the title of Mr. March.

—Staff writer Aidan E. Tait can be reached at atait@fas.harvard.edu.

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