After four prolific seasons on East Hill, it has come time for the Cornell women’s hockey program to say goodbye to one of its all-time great players: 2011-2012 Cornell Daily Sun Female Athlete of the Year Rebecca Johnston.
Johnston made her way to Cornell from Sudbury, Ontario, a city in Canada’s Northern Ontario region. Even before taking to the ice for the Red, Johnston already had an impressive résumé, having spent time with the Canadian under-22 national team. She also won a gold medal with Team Ontario at the Canada Games and was named an alternate to the Canadian national team.
It was October, 2007 when the Lynah Faithful got its first glimpse of the forward who would soon become one of the most dominant players in ECAC women’s hockey. In her first NCAA game with the Red, Johnston led the Cornell charge, scoring the first Cornell goal of the season less than three minutes into the team’s first game against the University of Vermont at Lynah. While the Faithful are certainly happy to have had the pleasure of watching Johnston play at home at Lynah for the past few seasons, it was not always certain that she would lace up her skates for the Red.
“I have two older sisters,” Johnston said. “My one older sister went to Harvard and my other one went to Cornell and both played on the hockey teams. I was kind of deciding between the two schools. I really, really enjoyed my Cornell visit. I really liked the coaching staff — Doug Derraugh was really, really nice — and I knew that he was an amazing coach. He had a lot to teach me … He was one of the major deciding factors.”
Upon her arrival at Cornell, Johnston wasted no time in making a big impact on the team, leading the Red in both scoring and points her freshman year and becoming the first Cornell player to be named ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Year and to the ECAC Hockey first team. This tenacity remained a part of her in her second season with the Red, again leading the team in both goals and points. She subsequently became the first Cornell player ever to earn the title of RBK All-American. She was also named to the ECAC Hockey first team, All-Ivy first team and as a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award, the highest honor in women’s college hockey.
Johnston remained a member of Team Canada throughout her time on the Hill, even taking the 2009-2010 campaign off from college hockey (and college in general) to spend the entire season with the Canadian Olympic team, ultimately winning the Gold Medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
“I always like going to the national team and playing for my country,” Johnston said. “It’s really an amazing experience. It’s definitely difficult to miss so much school — I missed quite a bit each semester — but I always managed to catch up when I got back. It’s a lot of fun going back and forth and being able to play for my country but also playing for and representing my school.”
Upon her return to Cornell in 2010, Johnston didn’t miss a beat, being named an alternate captain and, once again, leading the team in scoring, tallying 26 goals and 24 assists on the season. In addition, she was also, once again, named a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award, as well as to the ECAC Hockey and All-Ivy first teams.
While Johnston racked up the individual honors, it is clear that, for her, it was never about anything other than the team.
“Winning the ECACs and making it to the Frozen Four [twice are] my proudest accomplishments and our team’s proudest accomplishments. It’s something that, coming in my freshman year, I never would have thought that that was even possible,” Johnston said, referring to the program that developed from an average team to a national powerhouse over the last three years. (In her first season with the Red, Cornell went 12-17-1, while in her last that record was improved to 30-5.)
In the 2011-2012 campaign, Johnston again earned the title of leading scorer, finishing her career as number five on Cornell’s all-time scoring list. For her efforts this season, Johnston was named ECAC Hockey Player of the Year, Ivy League Player of the Year, a Patty Kazmaier finalist and a First Team All-American.
While Johnston had an outstanding career with the Red, one that will not be soon forgotten by the program and by the Faithful, all good things must come to an end. On May 27th, Johnston, along with the rest of the Cornell Class of 2012, will receive her diploma and move on to other endeavors, leaving Cornell behind, but taking the memories with her.
“I’ll never forget our [triple] overtime win against Boston University to get to the Frozen Four,” Johnston said, referring to this season’s exhilarating 8-7 win over the No. 5 Terriers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. “It was my last game at Lynah and it’s something that I’ll never forget. It was the longest game I ever played. We had a lot of fan support — they stayed around the entire game — it was a pretty amazing experience. I definitely don’t think I’ll ever forget that. Not for one moment.”
That was the last win Johnston had with Cornell — a fitting way to end her playing career at Lynah. The next week the team traveled to Minnesota, where the No. 2 Minnesota Golden Gophers delivered the Red a crushing 3-1 loss, a defeat that officially ended Johnston’s career with the team she had called her own for four seasons.
“We’re basically like a family,” Johnston said. “It’s going to be really sad leaving everyone and not seeing everyone everyday, but I know we’ll definitely keep in contact.”
While Johnston’s career with the Red may be over, her time as a hockey player has no end in the foreseeable future. After graduation, the Communications major plans to return home to Canada in order to play in the women’s league there, although she has not yet decided on a team to play for. Here’s to wishing her the best.