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Kings' Jack Johnson skeptical about Dean Lombardi's reasons for criticizing him

January 23, 2010 | 11:56 am
Kings defenseman Jack Johnson didn’t seem to buy General Manager Dean Lombardi’s explanation for the searing criticism Lombardi made about his game and defensive deficiencies in an interview on the blogs frozenroyalty.net and hockeytalk.biz.

Lombardi said Johnson was “awful as a hockey player” and had received poor coaching at the University of Michigan, which led Johnson to defend his college coach, Red Berenson, and to say he was “proud to be a Michigan man.” Johnson also told The Times that he felt Lombardi’s comments were "irresponsible and unprofessional."

Lombardi told The Times on Friday that he intended to compliment Johnson for making progress with the Kings and that his quotes were meant as background for the interviewer, Gann Matsuda. However, Johnson clearly was skeptical today when told of Lombardi’s account.

“OK,” Johnson said, grimacing. “I spoke my piece about it. I’m not going to say anything else about it. If anything else should be said, it should come from Dean.”

Johnson also said he hadn’t talked to Lombardi since before the Kings’ game against Buffalo on Thursday night, a chat held at Johnson’s request. Johnson wouldn’t say whether the comments had damaged his relationship with Lombardi.

“I don’t know,” he said.

Lombardi’s harsh words about the Berenson and the Wolverines’ program have drawn fire from Michigan fans, college hockey fans and hockey fans in Detroit, where the Kings will face the Red Wings tonight at Joe Louis Arena. Johnson was surrounded by more than half a dozen questioners after today’s game-day skate and the original interview, Johnson’s response and Lombardi’s explanation of his comments have been widely linked on hockey websites and blogs. 

Johnson said that after the Kings arrived in Detroit on Friday he went home to nearby Ann Arbor to watch the Wolverines hockey team beat Ferris State and to see family and friends.

“I got to sleep in my own bed, which was really nice,” he said. “You don’t often get a chance to go home during the year, so it was a nice chance to go home, see a lot of friends and family and get a chance to catch up with some people. It was a fun night.”

Fellow Kings defenseman Matt Greene is also a Michigan native. He’s from Grand Ledge, which he said is an hour and 45 minutes west of Detroit.

He said his mother, sister and “a boatload of friends” would be at today’s game, but he wasn’t promising he’d score a goal for them.

“They know me. I grew up with most of these guys,” said Greene, who has already scored his annual goal. “They’re not looking forward to that.”

Greene also said that at the midget level he played at Joe Louis Arena everyday. “Good times, great memories coming out here,” he said.

Fro still a no-go?

The website russianhockeyfans.com, citing a Russian-language site, said Kings winger Alexander Frolov had been added to the Russian Olympic hockey team and had gotten “Olympics equipment.”

Frolov said he hadn’t heard about the report and hadn’t gotten any Olympic gear. “I don’t know. I didn’t hear anything,” he said.

Slap shots

Red Wings forward Kris Draper, who is Canadian, surprised onlookers by wearing a USA hockey jersey during Detroit's morning skate, but there was a funny explanation.

It seems Draper and teammate Brett Lebda, who is American, had a bet on whether the U.S. or Canada would win the recent world junior tournament, with the loser having to wear the jersey of the winner's homeland. The U.S. prevailed, so Draper paid off his bet today, wearing a customized jersey with his name on the back -- with the reluctant approval of Detroit Coach Mike Babcock, who will coach Canada's Olympic team at the Vancouver Games.

"Wearing that at my practice," Babcock said, pretending to grumble but adding a smile.

Draper said he has lived in the U.S. for 17 years and his three children were born in this country. In fact, he said he'd give the jersey to his son.

"It's just a little fun thing," he said. "All the guys know how proud I am being Canadian and how fortunate I've been being able to represent my country, so the guys were giving it to me pretty good walking out there."

More later at www.latimes.com/sports.

-- Helene Elliott in Detroit

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