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Flames hire decorated women’s hockey player Rebecca Johnston in player development

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Decorated Canadian women’s hockey team forward Rebecca Johnston joined a recent wave of women entering NHL teams’ hockey operations departments when the Calgary Flames took her aboard.

The 32-year-old from Sudbury, Ont., will work in player development, prospect evaluation and on-ice instruction, as well as with the Flames Foundation in community programs in a full-time job, the Flames said Tuesday.

Johnston, a three-time Olympic gold medallist, was the oldest player on the Canadian team that claimed gold in Beijing in February.

She paused her playing career to rest her body after Beijing and, after a few conversations with Flames general manager Brad Treliving, served as a guest coach in July’s prospect camp.

“I had a great experience there, so I definitely wanted to do something in player development if it was possible, and it just came from there,” Johnston told The Canadian Press.

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“We continued to talk and see what was available. I also was very interested in the community grassroots program. Calgary, I’ve been here for a long time now. I feel like I’m part of the community now. I want to grow the game here.

“I was interested in those two parts, so they were able to make a dual role for me, which was awesome. I can really do both things that I love to do.”

She played for Canadian teams that won Olympic gold in 2010 and 2014, as well as silver in 2018. Johnston ranks eighth all-time in national team points with 61 goals and 77 assists in 174 career games.

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She made her national-team debut at age 18, wore the Maple Leaf in 11 world championships, and won gold three times. Johnston was named to world tournament all-star teams in both 2011 and 2016.

She didn’t report to selection camp in August or play in the recent world championship in Herning, Denmark, where her teammates edged the U.S. for gold 2-1 on Sept. 4.

“I’m not retiring or anything like that,” Johnston said. “My body definitely needed some time off. My back has been giving me a lot of issues. I am trying to figure that out. Taking the year off will be really good for me.”

She hasn’t ruled out playing games for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA) of which she is a member, but Johnston’s priority is establishing herself in her new Flames job.

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There will be a lot of work for her to do at the Saddledome because the Flames relocated their American Hockey League affiliate to Calgary this season.

“I think I can really dive into the game and really help prospects get through some of the things I’ve gone through and help get them to that next level,” Johnston said.

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Her former Canadian teammate Hayley Wickenheiser was among the first women to make hockey ops inroads into the NHL when the Toronto Maple Leafs hired her as assistant director of player development in 2018.

The Leafs upgraded her title this year to assistant general manager of player personnel. Wickenheiser is among five female AGMs in the NHL.

“Hayley was kind of the first one that I knew about and then you hear about so many other great female hockey players that have done so much in their hockey careers switch over the men’s side in the NHL,” Johnston said.

“It’s cool to see that’s more the norm.”

Click to play video: '2-time Olympic gold medallist stops by camp to inspire young girls'
2-time Olympic gold medallist stops by camp to inspire young girls

The Montreal Canadiens hired current Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin this summer for a part-time player personnel role.

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Former national-team goaltender Manon Rheaume became hockey ops and prospects adviser to the Los Angeles Kings in July.

Johnston spoke with former U.S. women’s hockey team captain Meghan Duggan, now manager of player development for the New Jersey Devils, about how to carve out a similar job for herself.

“I’d been playing hockey my entire life and to think about next steps and what to do when I’m not playing hockey, it’s obviously challenging, a big step,” Johnston said.

“She was just a good person to talk to and get some details about what she was doing, how she got started and how it all came about.”

Johnston was left off the roster for the 2020 world championship, which was ultimately cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic.

She then overcame an Achilles tendon injury to play her way back onto a team that won world championship gold in 2021, and be named to her fourth Olympic team in 2022.

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