Wisconsin Lady Badgers coach Mark Johnson, a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic men's hockey team that won gold, was named Tuesday as coach of the U.S. women's ice hockey team that will compete at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
He will also lead the U.S. Women's National Team for the 2009 International Ice Hockey Federation World Women's Championship, set for April 4-12 in Hameenlinna, Finland.
A better fit for the women heading to Vancouver would be hard to imagine.
Johnson's resume reads like the pedigree of a blue-chip thoroughbred, if such terms could be appropriately attributed to hockey coaches.
He is the son of Stanley Cup-winning and NCAA championship-winning coach Bob Johnson. Mark, who also played at Wisconsin, was drafted twice -- once to the World Hockey Association (third round, 1977) and once to the NHL (fourth round, by Pittsburgh, 1977) -- and played in 669 NHL games, collecting 203 goals and 508 points.
Johnson is a former WCHA Rookie of the Year, WCHA MVP, a two-time All-American, NCAA champion, NHL All-Star, NHL team captain (Hartford Whalers, 1983-85) and was recently inducted into the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame (2001) and the United States Hockey Hall of Fame (2004).
"Mark is a hockey icon with unmatched experience on the international stage," said Dave Ogrean, USA Hockey's executive director. "His level of success as both a player and a coach made him an excellent choice for this position. He is well-suited to help our team return to the gold-medal podium in Vancouver."
Johnson is currently in his seventh season as head women's ice hockey coach at the University of Wisconsin, where his .802 winning percentage coming into the 2008-09 season was tops among active coaches in NCAA Division 1.
But it is Johnson's work in international competition for which he will always be remembered.
Not only was he a member of the 1980 USA "Miracle on Ice" hockey team that won Olympic gold, but he was an integral member, scoring a number of big goals for his team and acting in a leadership role throughout the tournament.
In fact, the argument could be made that one of Johnson's goals -- his game-tying goal with one second remaining in the first period of the famed USA/Soviet matchup -- was the game-changer in the most famous Olympic hockey game ever played.
It was that sort of magic that the American women would like to tap into come 2010 to help reverse an alarming trend for Team USA in Olympic competition.
After a gold medal in Nagano, Japan, in the inaugural Olympic women's tournament, Canada has dominated, taking each of the past two gold medals --2002 in Salt Lake City and 2006 in Turino, Italy.
Most distressing, however, is the fact that after their gold-medal finish in 1998, Team USA took home silver in 2002, and a very disappointing bronze last time around.
The 2006 tournament, like Lake Placid, also featured an upset that will go down in international women's ice hockey history. Only this time, things didn't quite go Team USA's way.
Facing Sweden as a semifinal opponent, with familiar foe Canada already locked into the gold-medal game, the Swedes stunned the heavily favored Americans with a 3-2 shootout win.
The gold-medal game that year marked the first World Championship or Olympic gold-medal game that did not include both Team Canada and Team USA.
It also marked a new degree of focus for USA women's hockey, and the circling of the 2010 Winter Olympics in North America as a chance for redemption; not against the Swedes, or the Canadians, but for themselves, and a new opportunity to reclaim their position at the top of the international hockey ladder.
In preparation for that challenge, Johnson will also lead the American team at the upcoming Qwest tour: a nine-city, 10-game tour throughout the United States, featuring the 2009-10 U.S. Women's National Team playing against top competition, including perennial favorite Canada, and up-and-coming Team Finland.
Of those 10 games, four have already been confirmed for broadcast on the NHL Network: Friday, 0ct. 16 in Spokane, WA against Canada, Saturday Dec. 12 in Denver, CO against Canada, Wednesday, Dec. 30 in St. Paul, MN against Canada and Thursday, Feb. 4 in Colorado Springs, CO against Finland.
Johnson and his U.S. Women's team will also take part in the National Women's Invitational Tournament, a test event for the Olympic Winter Games from Aug. 31-Sept. 6 in Vancouver, Canada, as well as the 2009 Four Nations Cup in Finland from Nov. 2-8.
"We're extremely happy to have Mark lead our team throughout the next year," said Michele Amidon, USA Hockey's director of women's hockey. "Through coaching within our U.S. women's national program for the past three years and guiding Wisconsin to record-breaking success, Mark has shown a great ability to connect with the players and lead teams to victory."