The recent Hockey Weekend Across America got me to thinking about Badger Bob Johnson, a name most hockey fans know. He came up with the wonderful phrase, “It’s a great day for hockey!” and he was the coach who finally brought the Pittsburgh Penguins the Stanley Cup in 1991.
After putting together that winning team with a winning attitude, he contracted brain cancer and passed away before the start of the 1992 season. But Badger Bob’s enthusiasm for the game never died. He shared it with college players, squirts and NHLers, not to mention his own family.
His son, Mark, scored two crucial goals in the “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympic Games. He then went on to play 11 seasons in the NHL.
Even with those remarkable accomplishments, when impresses me even more is that since 2002, Mark Johnson has been the coach of the University of Wisconsin’s women’s hockey team. He’s taken the program to an elite level and the women have won two national championships with him as their coach.
Using his own natural athleticism, his own accomplishments, and all he learned from being around his father, he has fostered a winning attitude and done it his way. He saw taking this job as a challenge, something he couldn’t resist.
In an article for “On Wisconsin” the alumni newsletter, writer and alum Dennis Chaptman, told more of Mark’s story through the players. “At some away games, people don’t come to see us. They come to see Mark Johnson,” says Emily Morris, a Badger defender and team captain. “That really made me realize the magnitude of the Miracle on Ice and what Coach has accomplished.”
Another team member, Jinelle Zuagg, a senior forward, says she chose to play for the Badgers largely because of Johnson’s reputation, his character, and the way he deals with players. “If he’s mad at you, he doesn’t have to say it. You know it. It’s the look on his face and way he looks at you,” she says. “If he’s mad at our team, he won’t come to the locker room between periods. Then we all know he’s mad and that says enough.”
Mark Johnson, says Chaptman, has come to appreciate what his father discovered years ago: that if you can get off the emotional roller coaster and find a workable balancing point in life and in coaching, life and sports are far more enjoyable.
“There have been other opportunities, a few in the college ranks and a couple with the NHL,” Johnson said. “As I like stability with my team, I like stability for my family as well.”
This season saw the Badgers travel to Duluth, Minnesota, to compete for another championship at the NCAA Frozen Four in March. They made it to the finals, but lost 4-0 to Minnesota Duluth and failed to win a third title.
But as Badger Bob would say, this was just another in a long line of “great days for hockey” and Badger Bob’s memory will continue to inspire hockey players all over the United States.
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