Spartan Hockey Star Johnny Draeger Not Defined by his Impressive Talent, Instead the Pride of Faribault Known for Character Instilled by a Strong Family!
Star sophomore defensemen Johnny Draeger is a central component of Head Coach Tom Anastos’ plan for restoring MSU hockey to its former glory. A high profile recruit coming out of high school, Draeger could have played college hockey anywhere he wanted, but he believed in what Coach Anastos was doing at MSU and, therefore, decided to be a Spartan.
The pride of Faribault, Minn., Draeger told listeners during a recent interview on Spartan Nation Radio with Hondo Carpenter Sr. what initially attracted him to the MSU program. “I like to surround myself with good people,” he said, “and I saw that here with the coaching staff.”
Draeger said he instantly felt a connection with the players and coaches he met at MSU and described a family environment around the hockey facilities. “Immediately when I got on campus I had another family,” Draeger said, “I didn’t have my family back in Minnesota so I came here and everyone was so kind and opened up their doors. I think that was most appealing to me.”
While he understood that MSU was in a rebuilding phase, Draeger said that he appreciated the faith Coach Anastos placed in him and believed in his mission for restoring the program. The fact that Coach Anastos made him such a big piece of that vision showed commitment, he said, and helped draw him to East Lansing.
While a supremely gifted hockey player, Draeger’s best attribute is a tireless work ethic that drives him to constantly improve and get the best out of himself. Blessed with a loving and supportive family, Draeger told listeners that the value of hard work has been engrained in him for as long as he can remember, especially by his grandfather.
Despite simply working in a cement factory, Draeger said he learned the importance of seeking perfection in everything you do from his grandfather, regardless of the task. “When he gets in the shop, it has to be perfect,” Draeger said, “he does something so simple but he always does it to perfection and I think that really stuck with me.”
A fiercely competitive and intense player, Draeger is well-known for never holding anything back on the ice, even when he is just in practice. “I was never the biggest, the fastest, or even the best player on the ice growing up,” he told listeners, “I was usually the bottom guy so it was always important to me to out and practice and practice perfect.”
His energy level sets the tone for the rest of the team and Draeger said that he actively encourages others to follow his lead. “When guys aren’t, maybe, practicing perfect, that always eats at me,” he said, “so I’m always dragging guys along, getting them in that mindset that you have to practice how you play.”
Draeger admits that MSU’s struggles the past two seasons have been frustrating, but he is in no way dejected about the state of the Spartan program and is instead extremely optimistic about the future. While the losses “can eat at you”, Draeger said that fans need to look at the progress of this year’s team and steps they have taken to become a championship program once again.
“You have to know this year our team is I would say, ten times better than last year,” he said, “I think we have great young guys which is very exciting. So it’s definitely a great sign to see good things are coming.”
As a star player, Draeger is acutely aware of the impact he can have on the lives of his young fans. Deeply humbled and honored by the admiration of others, Draeger said he actively looks to make time to talk to and interact with his fans and uses their encouragement as motivation. “I hope I give back to all those kids out there wearing my jersey,” he said, “that’s why it’s important for me to bring it every day.”
Draeger’s skill set and work ethic will surely earn him an opportunity in the NHL someday, but for right now he is enjoying being a Spartan and contributing to the rejuvenation of the MSU program. “I’m grateful every day to have the opportunity to be a Spartan, to see the Green and White in the stands every game,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity and I love it here and I want to thank the Spartan community for being so warm and welcoming.”
Understanding that a playoff berth is only possible if the Spartans win the inaugural Big Ten Tournament, Draeger said he is optimistic about MSU’s chances at a serious run at the Big Ten title. “It’s going to be exciting,” he said, “I’m really happy with the way our team has progressed, I think we’re starting to click and starting to come together.”
Truly a better person than a hockey player, Johnny Draeger exemplifies class, hard work, and integrity. He is exactly the type of guy the Spartan hockey program should be building its future around and will no doubt go down as one of the all-time MSU hockey greats. We here at Spartan Nation are so proud of him as both a player and a young man and we cannot wait to watch the rest of what will be a spectacular career at MSU and beyond.