The Ice Garden is starting a new series, “Rink Ink,” which features various hockey players’ tattoos. A form of self-expression, tattoos provide unique insights into the players’ lives — their mottos, their beliefs, their motivations, their interests. To kick off the series, The Ice Garden spoke with Ashley “Stretch” Johnston of the New York Riveters.
Can you describe your tattoos and their meanings?
On my rib, I have a really small tattoo that just says “believe” with one of the cancer ribbons. I got that just as I was finishing up high school. My two neighbors were pretty influential on my life, and both of them passed away from cancer, so [it’s] a little remembrance thing. The wife, her name was Heather — one of the big things she always told me was when you're looking to believe in something, believe in it because you fully believe in it, not because people tell you to or because it's what you're supposed to do. Ask questions, have doubts, [but] once you've exhausted all that and feel confident in what you believe in, then believe in it and stand for it. That was definitely a lesson that she really left me with, so that really governed, and still does govern, most of my beliefs. Whenever I'm going through a trying time, I really think about breaking down what I believe in and why I believe in it.
Also, I'm still in the process of finishing my arm [sleeve]. Currently what's on there is a sunflower, some doves, the New York City skyline, and the Toronto skyline. The idea behind this is that when I left Canada and went to school in the US, it was a new start. I had a really cool opportunity in front of me to make my own life, and I grew a lot during that time. The purpose of the sunflower there is just to show growth. The Toronto skyline [is] to show where I grew up, where I came from. The New York City one [is] to show what I've done and remind myself how much I've grown and how much I've taken flight, if you will. Originally, I was thinking about doing the Albany skyline, but once I started playing for the Riveters, [I decided] the New York City skyline is pretty symbolic, and playing for the Riveters is definitely one of the biggest accomplishments I've ever had in my life. [The New York City skyline is] paying tribute to that and paying tribute to the wonderful people and the opportunities I've had throughout the way.
Do you have any plans on what you’re going to add to your sleeve?
I want to get a lighthouse and boat put on, and there's a bunch of shading that needs to go in. I've kind of let the artist figure out what he wants to do for the shading portion. It's been a couple of years in the making, so every summer I try to add a little bit to it every time.
Other than finishing the sleeve, do you have any ideas for other tattoos?
I kind of flutter around them — what I want to do. My rule of thumb is that I have to have wanted it for more than a year, and then I'll do it. It's definitely a good one and has definitely prevented some regrets.
When exactly did you get your first tattoo?
I got it when I was 18, and I might have gotten it on my birthday or the day after. It was something that I had wanted for quite a while. The neighbor died earlier, during my senior year of high school, so it was just something I had been thinking about for a while and got a year later.
Any advice for someone who is thinking about getting a tattoo?
Make sure that it means something to you at your core — things that aren't necessarily going to change and are meaningful to you.
Also, find a good artist. I actually have one more tattoo. I have one on my wrist — it's just a quote: "inch by inch" — just a “keep chugging away” [thing]. I forget about it all the time. I wouldn't say [it’s] my mistake one, but one day I want to do something to it because I just went in and got it. The ends, all the letters, are different from each other, and it's not very good. So, I have one of those. Find an artist that's good. Make sure you like their work, and once you find a good artist stick with them.