WICHITA, Kan. (Dec. 14) - Carter Johnson was excited when he got the call from his agent. He knew he wanted to play pro hockey after he was done with his collegiate career. Finding the right fit for his game was a must. Look no further to Wichita, where he had a history.
Johnson, who graduated from Miami University (Ohio), signed with the Thunder this past offseason. The rookie forward from Gimli, Manitoba has gotten off to a nice start. It took him a few games to get acclimated and find a spot in the lineup.
Johnson knows the city very well. His uncle, Jeff Leiter, was a fan favorite during his playing days. He leaned on him to make the decision to come to Wichita to start his pro career.
“We’re a very tight knit family back home and uncle Jeff helped me a lot to get to this point,” stated Johnson. “I trained at his place where he practices sports medicine and he pointed out what his experience was like. He had nothing but good things to say about the city, about Coach Ramsay, who was also a linemate of his, and why this would be a good place for me to come.”
The hockey lineage goes way back for Carter. His grandfather, Bob, played in the NHL back during the 1960’s and 70’s for the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Atlanta Flames. For him, it has been a huge advantage to have that type of knowledge to help him grow as a player.
“They are both big mentors for me. They have always given me tips, pointers and have been a big support system. Our family is just so close and I lean on them both.”
Fans knew Jeff Leiter for his physical nature and style of play. He quickly grew as one of the most popular players during his time in Thunder blue. Leiter spent parts of five seasons in Wichita. He amassed 1,003 penalty minutes in 235 career games for the Thunder. When he found out that Carter was looking at signing with the Thunder, he couldn’t have been prouder.
“When I knew he was interested in coming to Wichita, I immediately thought it would be a good fit,” stated Leiter. “I have a lot of respect for the people there. I called Rammer and Joel and made a recommendation. I really didn’t have to get involved because I knew they would see something in Carter that I already knew. Carter has earned this chance all by himself. It just makes me proud for him that he is showing what he can do out there.”
Family is everything to the Johnson’s and the Leiter’s. The two of them have a bond, but it’s more like a close friendship. Johnson grew up watching his Uncle Jeff. In fact, he made a few trips to Wichita to see him play during his days in the Air Capital.
“I don’t really remember the experience that well, but I did come down to see him play at the Kansas Coliseum,” said Johnson. “I was fairly young and my mom got a few pictures of the trip. I still have the stuffed Thunderdog toy I got from the arena.”
Seeing his nephew playing for the Thunder hits differently for this family. Leiter got choked up about how happy he was for Carter and his success so far in Wichita.
“I’m so proud of him and it’s really special for me to know that he is with a good group of people like Rammer, Joel and others,” commented Leiter. “It’s just awesome that he gets to meet some great fans and people who were so close to me when I was there. Wichita was a second home to me and I will try to get back to see him play.”
Leiter has made a name for himself since hanging up the skates. He went on to earn his PhD from the Department of Human Anatomy and Cell Science as well as a Master of Science in Sport Biomechanics from the University of Manitoba. Over the past 10 years, Dr. Leiter, was a part of the prominent sports medicine team at Pan Am Clinic and worked across a variety of research streams including orthopedic sports medicine, human performance and concussion. He is currently a sport-science consultant for various NHL teams and hockey equipment companies. Now, as Director of Sports Science and Performance at Testify Performance, he gets to combine his love for hockey and sport with his knowledge of the human body.
“Uncle Jeff has been a big part of my life. He is always there for special occasions,” said Johnson. “He is a smart guy and has a very busy schedule, but always makes time for me. I’ve always looked up to him and want to make him proud. The closeness of our family has always just been a big emphasis for us.”
Through 18 games this season, Johnson has 14 points (7g, 7a). He has found a home on a line with Jay Dickman and Peter Crinella. The three of them have found some strong chemistry and it has been paying off. Johnson knows that he must take advantage of opportunities when they come. He likes to generate offense, make plays and use his size and puck protection to create for his linemates.
“I absolutely knew Carter had the potential to play at this level,” said Leiter. “He has great hands and solid hockey sense. I’ve always told him to have the same mindset that I had when I was playing that it is a privilege to be out there and don’t take advantage of your chances.”
As he navigates the first few months of his pro career, Johnson knows that he is right where he needs to be. The connection between his grandfather and uncle have left footprints in Wichita and he is doing his best to leave his mark as a pro. Fortunately, he has had some good people in his corner to lean on that have showed him a solid path.
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