SUN Hockey Pool

One tough T-Rick

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

A true friend is a gracious host.

Aaron Johnson knows that.

Which is why the Flames defenceman had plans to greet Columbus Blue Jackets star Rick Nash in a special way in anticipation of tonight's game.

"I'll send some room service at his hotel for about six in the morning. Wake him up," Johnson said with a laugh.

Talk about a nice guy.

OK, maybe the motives aren't pure, since an extra tired Nash -- the Blue Jackets leading scoring and best player -- could make life a little easier for the Flames.

And Johnson, who will likely face Nash on the Saddledome ice.

At yesterday's practice, Johnson practised with Mark Giordano on what appears to be the team's third pairing, meaning his Flames debut could be this evening.

Considering he hasn't played a meaningful game since the playoffs, Johnson is raring to go.

"It's been a week here, sitting and watching and waiting for the shot. I'm excited to get out there," said Johnson, acquired 12 days ago from the Chicago Blackhawks.

"It's been tough, but it's a matter of practising like it's game situations and getting what you can out of it. Now, it's a matter of bringing it into a game situation."

The Flames are carrying eight defencemen, so it will be tough for those on the bubble to draw into the lineup, especially when the team is playing well.

However, Johnson would provide his team a bit of an upper hand.

Not only did he spend parts of three seasons with Columbus, but he and Nash are best friends.

They even train together in Toronto in the summer.

"He's a great guy, and I'm looking forward to shutting him down," Johnson said. "I try and outdo him in the gym. We'll see if I can do it on the ice."

The Flames have faced Nash plenty of times over the years and have a solid scouting report. However, they've been victimized by him, too, such as last week when he set up both goals in a 2-1 Columbus victory over Calgary.

Johnson can provide a bit more information about the likely Canadian Olympian, who's collected 10 points in six games this season.

"Awesome guy. A humble guy," Johnson said.

"With all the success he's had over his career, he's a guy that doesn't have a big head, doesn't walk around expecting anything and works for everything he's got.

"He's really put the team on his back in his career and he's taken some heat for that, but he's coming out and looking pretty good right now."

The Blue Jackets arrive in Calgary with a 5-1-0 record, the best start in franchise history.

Nash, who came into the league as a sniper, has become a true leader by being a more complete player under head coach Ken Hitchcock.

"Hitch, when he came, saw Rick and wanted to help him improve his game. He didn't play the PK and didn't have a great plus-minus, but now you see Hitch has done a great job with him," Johnson said.

A tradition in hockey is putting some money on the bulletin board to be given to the player who scores the winning goal. Usually players facing their former team are on the hook for the cash.

Johnson wasn't out of pocket after the Flames lost to Chicago last week -- the game in which they blew a five-goal lead.

"Maybe I'll put some on (today)," he said.

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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