Thursday, January 29, 2009

An appreciation for preparation and persuasion

Mark Johnson's name might be familiar.

In 1980, he scored twice in Team USA's historic win over the Soviets at the Olympic Games in Lake Placid (aka the "Miracle on Ice"). He went on to play 11 seasons in the NHL, retiring in 1990.

Since his playing career ended, he's been coaching women's hockey at the University of Wisconsin, winning back to back national titles in 2006 and 2007.

Earlier this week, he was named head coach of the U.S. Women's Hockey Team.

At the press conference earlier this week announcing him as head coach of the U.S. women's hockey team, he talked about what he learned from two of his former coaches: His father, the late "Badger" Bob Johnson, who won three NCAA championships at Wisconsin and an NHL Stanley Cup with the Pens, and Hall of Famer Herb Brooks, coach of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team.

"What I saw first-hand [with my father] was that ability to create a culture, where you give your players the best opportunity, your teams the best opportunity to be successful, and how you create that culture to me is so vital," he said. "[My dad's] enthusiasm was always there, his love for going to the rink to try and work with players and improve them on and off the ice was always there. When you're around that as long as I was, you're going to take a lot of that into your coaching philosophy."

From the late Coach Brooks, "Johnson said he had gained an appreciation for preparation and persuasion."

"He really took us out of our comfort zone and trained us like no other coach had trained us," Johnson said. "At first, there was resistance. Nobody could understand it. If you've seen the movie 'Miracle,' it actually made him out to be a pretty nice guy.

Our toughest practice probably of the season as a group was the day after we beat the Russians. We came to the rink on Saturday, and we were strutting. We thought we were a pretty good group and feeling our oats. We thought we had the gold medal in the back of our pockets. But he caught our attention right when we stepped on the ice and we had one of our most challenging practices.

He knew the opportunity that was going to be presented the next day, and he didn't want us to screw it up. As he mentioned, you screw that last game up against Finland, you'll take it to your graves."