Confidence continues to grow for veteran Griffins goalkeeper Johnstone

Seth Johnstone makes a save against Mount Royal University during a game earlier this season (Chris Piggott photo).
Seth Johnstone makes a save against Mount Royal University during a game earlier this season (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – A soccer player since age 3, Seth Johnstone clearly remembers the moment he became a goalkeeper.

"I played club when I was seven," recalled the MacEwan Griffins netminder. "I was in the midfield. For the indoor tryouts that year, I don't know why, but I decided I wanted to play in net for the tryouts. I ended up making the lower-tier team and first day of training with that team, my coach put me in net. After practice, he comes up to me and says, 'you're the goalie.' I was like 'OK, I guess I'm the goalie.'

"I was really good at it from then on and I didn't really have any training. I just stuck with it."

Which is quite a thing considering what a physically punishing and thankless task it can be. Johnstone was already knocked out of a game earlier this season after colliding heavily in the air with a Calgary forward. Thankfully, he was back out the next day for the Griffins, no worse for wear and willing to lay his body on the line again.

"It's just your mentality as a goalie," said Johnstone. "You're putting yourself in (difficult) situations. That's life. Nobody told you to be a goalie. You chose to be one. It's kind of just what I signed up for.

"Every time a corner kick comes in, it's take that deep breath, realize you have that courage inside of you and just go. You have to be there for the team if they're going to be there for you, too."

Johnstone will lead MacEwan (1-3-2) into weekend home action against UBC (3-1-1) on Saturday (2:30 p.m., Commonwealth Stadium) and UNBC (3-3-1) on Sunday (2:30 p.m., Clarke Stadium, both games Canada West TV presented by Co-op).

He comes into the weekend off one of the most memorable performances of his university career – stopping a penalty kick to preserve a 1-1 draw for the Griffins against Thompson Rivers University last Saturday.

"Honestly, when anything like that happens, I can just feel the energy," he said. "You try to give everyone else a boost to help keep igniting those sparks in everyone and try to get something to happen. Honestly, it was pretty surreal."

Beyond the saves that he makes for the Griffins, Johnstone's growing confidence and leadership has been a huge boon to the young team. After the team's struggles on set pieces a season ago, he set out to be more assertive in the box.

"One of the big challenges this year was how can we as a team improve? I think one of the easiest ways, for me anyway, to have a direct involvement was on those set pieces," he said. "At the end of the day, it's all coming back on me.

"I just have to make sure the team's prepared and I'm prepared. Whether I'm going to get my eye elbowed, whether I'm going to get hit or kicked or whatever, I have to go and do my job as best as I can."

That also includes being vocal, in directing MacEwan's orchestration of their proper defensive shape.

"I usually lose my voice after the weekend to be honest with you," Johnstone chuckled.

MacEwan head coach Adam Loga notes Johnstone's leadership is almost like having a coach on the field.

"He's definitely a leader back there for our back four and five defensively," he said. "He echoes what we say as a staff for the most part and is very good at organizing us as a collective.

"His voice … we can all hear him throughout the stadium. The positivity and encouragement he lends to the group has really been beneficial for us this season. It's nice to have another voice organizing the group that is coming from a different angle than just the staff on the sidelines."

Johnstone first played for MacEwan in 2013 when the program was in its final season in the ACAC, took four seasons off to focus on school and returned to the Griffins in 2018. Loga thought he was graduating, but Johnstone decided to return for fall semester to finish up his final few courses on an accounting degree.

"I'm glad he's back," said Loga. "We didn't think he would be back because of graduation, but he decided to hold off and come back for another season and help us out. He's getting more confident as the weeks go by. We're happy to have him back." 

FREE KICKS: Johnstone's father Michael once played for the Stoke City Reserves in England ... Johnstone holds the program record for the most saves in a Canada West match when he stopped 16 in a draw with Trinity Western last season ... For Saturday's game at Commonwealth Stadium, spectators will enter through Gate 2, located on the west side of the building. The inflatable Griffin will be at the gate ... Parking is available in the north half of Lot A (west side of the stadium) with overflow parking in the Stadium LRT parking lot.