It’s no surprise Jack Johnston is wearing the captain’s ‘C’ for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs this season.
Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said the forward from St. Paul, Minnesota, has been a leader since his first season with the team in the North American Hockey League, a 26-team Tier II junior A-level league.
“I think a little bit goes with work ethic,’’ Johnston said after Tuesday’s practice at the Big Dipper Ice Arena, where the Ice Dogs face the Janesville Jets in a North American Hockey League Midwest Division series at 7 p.m. today and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
“You’ve got to work hard every day when you go in every day. Workouts, games and practices — it’s all the same. You’ve got to push yourself to get better.”
Johnston was an assistant captain last season.
“He’s a third-year guy who wore the ‘A’ for us last season. So there’s a lot of people who were expecting he was going to be our captain,’’ Stewart said Tuesday.
“He’s just a guy that everyone likes to be around and hear from,’’ Stewart said. “He works super hard on the ice and he sets a good example for younger players.”
Said Johnston, “Obviously, vocally you’re more comfortable year in and year out. I’m talking more, getting the guys ready to go and making sure everyone is on the same page.”
Johnston has 11 goals and 13 assists for 24 points while skating in all 24 games for the Ice Dogs this season.
He is approaching 100 career points in his last season of junior hockey, as he has 94 points from 42 goals and 52 assists in 127 games for the Ice Dogs.
“He’s a got a very good stick and keeps a lot of second and third chances alive for his team. He’s got some very deceptive skills,’’ Stewart said.
Stewart and associate head coach Scott Deur gave the Ice Dogs time off on Sunday and Monday.
It’s for a good reason — the Janesville series is Fairbanks’ second straight three-game set against a Midwest opponent.
“When we skated today (Tuesday), guys seemed pretty fresh,’’ Stewart said. “So that’s one thing, to make sure that our work-to-rest ratio is right; but at the same time, we’re trying to keep our intensity.”
The Ice Dogs, in second place in the Midwest at 14-8-0-2 for 30 points in the standings, are coming off a 0-2-0-1 finish against the division-leading Kenai River Brown Bears on Nov. 21-23 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Ice Dogs were defeated 5-3 in the opener. Fairbanks fell 6-4 in the second game in Soldotna and ended the trip and series with a 4-3 shootout loss, which gave them a point in the standings.
“We felt we just made big mistakes,’’ Stewart said. “We turned a lot pucks over and we had the puck a lot.
“We created some good opportunities and carried the play for a long time, but we made mistakes and they capitalized.”
The three nights in Soldotna helped prepare the Ice Dogs for a Jets squad against which Fairbanks has a 4-0-0-0 record this season.
However, the Ice Dogs know, too, that the Jets, of Janesville, Wisconsin, have won six of their last eight games.
“They’re finding their stride a little bit,’’ Stewart said. “I think it’s important for us to stay disciplined against this team.
“They’ve got really good depth. So we’ve need to make sure that we throw our depth right back at them, and just kind of stay the course, and understand that we’re a team that’s going to win the game by limiting our mistakes and limiting the other team’s opportunities.”
Janesville is third in the Midwest standings at 11-11-1-0 for 23 points.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.