MORE MIRACLES FOR MARK JOHNSON?
By Shawna Holm
April 7, 2007
Mark Johnson truly made his mark in hockey history in Olympic competition. Today, he coaches the University of Wisconsin’s women’s team, and he’s hoping to revive his golden touch as the head coach of Team USA at the 2007 IIHF World Women’s Championship.
His greatest achievement is well-known to fans around the world. A talented forward at age 22, Johnson was on the ‘Miracle on Ice’ team that captured the 1980 Olympic gold medal. The underdog Americans upset the Soviet Union 4-3 in the key game of the tournament, and Johnson scored two goals.
That wasn’t his only highlight whilst sporting the Stars and Stripes. He participated in eight World Championships plus other international tournaments.
He also had a successful NHL career, starting off in 1979 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In addition, he played for Minnesota, Hartford, and St. Louis, and ended up with the New Jersey Devils for five years.
Johnson got involved in hockey at a young age, idolizing players from his native Wisconsin where he grew up. Some of his favourite NHL heroes were Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, and Gordie Howe.
Mark Johnson played under the direction of his father, “Badger” Bob Johnson, who coached the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team. Coming from a sports family, Johnson found it natural to pursue a career on the ice.
“Well when your dad’s coach, and you want to hang out with your dad, you usually had to go to the rink,” reflected the 49-year-old Johnson. “It’s a great sport for young kids to get involved in. I was fortunate to have a dad that was in the business.”
Johnson’s advice to young players today: “Make sure you enjoy the sport and have fun because that’s why it’s called ‘a hockey game.’ I think sometimes we get too serious. And if you want to become better, become a well-rounded athlete. Don’t just focus on one particular sport.”
He retired as a player in 1992 with 669 NHL games under his belt, having collected 203 goals and 305 assists. Once his career ended, it was time for Johnson to pass along what he had learned in his career and become a coach.
“I think obviously some of the things that happened back in 1980 you take with you, you put in the back pocket,” remarked Johnson.
Prior to working on the women’s side of hockey, Johnson served as an assistant coach with the UW Badgers men’s team from 1996 to 2002. He also assisted with the US Olympics Men’s Ice Hockey Orientation Camp in 2001 and with the US Men’s National Team in 2002. His involvement with female hockey at the University of Wisconsin began in 2002.
So why did he become a women’s hockey coach?
“I heard nothing but positive comments,” said Johnson. “I wanted to be a head coach again, and this gave me an opportunity to not only head coach but also to run my own program and make my own decisions. That was five years ago and it’s been very rewarding, very enjoyable. I’ve had a lot of fun along the way.”
Johnson noted that one of the most challenging parts of coaching any team is getting the players to play and think as a team, not individuals. He said they need to understand what it means to be a team player, accept their roles, and sacrifice individual egos.
“If they’re going to want to win a championship, they have to sacrifice those things and do what’s for the best of the team,” said Johnson. “If you get a group that’s willing to do it, then you have a chance to make a run at things.”