1980 hero's impact felt on 2014 U.S. women's team
Mark Johnson has quite a legacy in Olympic hockey.
In 1980, he was the leading scorer on the U.S. men’s Olympic team that won gold medals at Lake Placid, scoring two of the team’s four goals in its memorable victory over the Soviet Union in the “Miracle on Ice”.
While Johnson’s accomplishments in 1980 alone give him an Olympic legacy comparable to anybody in American hockey history, he hasn’t stopped contributing to his country’s Olympic hockey success.
Johnson’s Olympic resume will be bolstered in Sochi thanks to four players – Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Jessie Vetter and Brianna Decker – who will be competing for the U.S. women’s hockey team after enjoying successful college careers where they were coached by him at the University of Wisconsin.
“He just sort of has this magic about him,” says Knight of Johnson, whose nickname when he played, coincidentally, was “Magic Johnson”.
“He has this knack for simple things, and for making the game really simple.
“Every time I stepped out onto the ice, I was just fortunate to be able to be a student, and be in his classroom on the rink.”
“He’s a great coach,” added Vetter, a 2014 U.S. women’s Olympic team goalie, of Johnson. “He does a good job at putting people in the right position to be successful.”
For Johnson, a former University of Wisconsin Badger star himself whose father, “Badger” Bob Johnson, coached Wisconsin’s men’s team for 16 years and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992, becoming a women’s coaching guru was not how his career started.
Johnson’s coaching career at Wisconsin started as an assistant coach with the men’s team in 1996, six years after his 11-year career as an NHL player ended. He remained an assistant coach under Jeff Sauer – the man who succeeded his father’s reign as Wisconsin’s men’s coach in 1982 – until 2002, when the opportunity to take over as the head coach of the program’s women’s team presented itself.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
The 12 years of history Johnson has built at Wisconsin – which was interrupted when he left the school to coach the 2010 Olympic team – has included four national championships and developing a total of eight future Olympians, including the four on the 2014 team.
Embedded owg_slideshow: U.S. women's hockey Olympians who've won NCAA titles
“I played a long time in the National Hockey League, and have had a lot of different experiences as a player and as a coach,” says Johnson, currently age 56.
“What I try to do is put myself in the players’ shoes, and (get) what they’re thinking and (figure out) what we need on a particular day to make sure we’re doing the right thing.
“My job as a coach – and our job as a coaching staff – is to prepare them for what lies ahead, whether that’s a practice or a big weekend series of game, so they’re able to come out and play their best games.
“But at the same time, (we try to) teach them life lessons, so when they’re long gone from the University of Wisconsin, they can reflect on some of the things that they did here and help them as they go through their lives.”
Considering Johnson’s four former pupils who will be competing in the 2014 Olympics have nine Wisconsin national championship rings between them, it’ll certainly be the hope of USA Hockey that the quartet of former Badgers can apply the lessons they learned from Johnson in Sochi.
Because if they can, the results could be golden.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Get to know the faces of the U.S. women's hockey team
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