MALMO, Sweden — Whereas Scott Perunovich is trying to begin a National Hockey League career, Adam Johnson has already experienced playing with the best players in the world.
Johnson, who signed with Pittsburgh as a free agent on July 6, 2017, got to play in 13 games for the Penguins, six during the 2018-19 season and seven during the 2019-20 season.
Johnson, who notched one goal and three assists in those 13 games, was invited to join the team in the bubble in Canada when the NHL resumed last summer, but when the Penguins’ season ended, he became a free agent.
Now it was a waiting game to see who would be interested in signing the former Hibbing/Chisholm Bluejacket and University of Minnesota-Duluth standout.
Johnson had some offers, but due to the pandemic, everything was limbo. He wanted to play, but where?
With so much uncertainty with the NHL and American Hockey League seasons, Johnson made the biggest leap of his life. He signed with the Malmo Redhawks of the Swedish Hockey League.
On Monday, Johnson, who moved to Sweden during the week of Dec. 18, scored one goal and had one assist in his first game in Redhawks’ sweater.
“I didn’t play that great, but there’s going to be a bit of an adjustment,” Johnson said. “It was my first game in eight months. I have to get used to that, plus it’s a lot different game.
“The ice is bigger. In North America, you’re forced to make plays a lot quicker. Here, there’s more time, and a lot more skating. You have more time with the puck. I have to get used to that.”
Johnson may have to get used to the bigger sheet of ice, but skill-wise, he shouldn’t have any problems fitting in. His biggest problem in Pittsburgh was trying to break into that star-studded lineup.
“Each year I got better, but there were a lot of guys battling for a few spots,” Johnson said. “That was the main reason I got out of there.”
Before his decision to move, Johnson did have some discussions with NHL teams.
“There was nothing concrete, especially with so much up in the air as far as the AHL season might go,” Johnson said. “I wanted to explore my options. I wanted to play some games.
“The AHL is still up in the air. Some teams might play. Some teams may not play. Had I got on one of those teams, who knows what would have happened? It was a good option just to play some games. It’s something to do. It’s a good league. It’s going to be good, all-around.”
Once he signed, Johnson had to begin his trek to a different continent and culture.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Johnson said. “Coming over here will be a good experience to see what the European game is like. They only have a couple of months left of their season, but I thought I’d give it a shot.
“It should be a good experience.”
When Johnson arrived at his new home, not everything went smoothly.
“It took a couple of extra days for my luggage to arrive, and I was still adjusting to the time difference (seven hours),” Johnson said. “That was horrible, but I’m getting better. I’m getting more sleep.
“I had an all-night flight, so I thought I would crash and fall into it. I didn’t sleep for the first four days, or I didn’t get more than two hours of sleep. I was told that it might take about a week to adjust, one day for each hour. Hopefully, I’ll kick it into gear and get on their time schedule.”
At least Johnson didn’t have a language barrier to get over. He has teammates from Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Canada, and they all speak English.
“That helped a lot,” Johnson said. “There is also a difference in the food and hotels. I’m a big Chipotle’s guy, but there’s not your typical restaurants here. There’s plenty of stuff that’s good, but I have to find the right spots.
“Other than that, it’s been a positive move. They’ve been welcoming. They’ve made the transition easy.”
There was one other problem — when Johnson finally got to the rink, he didn’t have his hockey equipment. He had to borrow gear for his first practice.
“It was a rough first practice, but it was nice to get a feel for things,” Johnson said. “Now, I’ve had three or four practices with my stuff. It was an adjustment getting used to the big ice, but that’s getting better each time I skate.
“It’s like the memorial-building ice. I loved that when I was younger. Now that I’m older, it’s a lot of skating. Once I get my legs under me, once I’m in better shape, it’ll be more room to skate, and that should fit well with my game.”
It was a tough decision for Johnson, but the end game is getting back into the NHL. This was one way to accomplish that goal.
“I want to play as much as I can,” Johnson said. “It’s been a weird year. We’ll see if next year gets back to normal. If I do well, I want to get back here to play. That’s the goal. There were some teams interested.
“As long as I do well over here, that will bode well for me to get back there. If I want to come back, I should be able to find a spot. I’m just happy to be playing and getting some games under my belt.”