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Johnson, Badgers Enjoy Continued Success

by Joe Sager / Pittsburgh Penguins
PODCAST: 11-8 Joe Sager with former Pen Mark Johnson  

When you think of recent dynasties in college sports, USC football may come to mind.

However, the Wisconsin women’s ice hockey team should be right up there. 

The Badgers, coached by former Penguins player Mark Johnson, are the two-time defending national champions. And, they appear poised for another successful run this season as they are ranked second in the latest NCAA Division-I women’s poll. 

Mark Johnson has guided Wisconsin's women's hockey team to two-straight national championships.

“Any kind of championship is incredible to win. You have to have good chemistry and good team players to do that and things have to fall into place,” Johnson said. “We’ve been able to do some things here the last couple years and the kids have had some experiences they will always cherish. It’s a unique group that buys into the team concept.” 

Johnson is the son of the late “Badger” Bob Johnson, a legendary coach at Wisconsin, who guided the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup championship in 1991.

 “He obviously had a huge impact on my career. As a youngster growing up in Madison and watching him coach at the university, I was a stickboy and then I got a chance to play for him at Wisconsin for three years,” Mark said. “When you see somebody on a daily basis and you see how he conducts himself in all different situations, not only as a father, but certainly as a coach – you’re going to take some things away from that because he was successful at all different levels, whether it was here in Madison or up in Calgary or in Pittsburgh. I saw things happen first-hand that were very successful. As I developed my philosophy and coaching style, I certainly looked at people that have been my mentors. I had a good one, so I could take a lot of things away from that.”

Mark Johnson finished his collegiate career second on Wisconsin’s all-time scoring list with 256 points, 11 behind Mike Eaves, a former Penguins assistant coach and currently Wisconsin’s men’s coach.

After his college playing career, Mark Johnson competed for Team USA at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. A Penguins fourth-round draft choice, he scored two goals in the “Miracle on Ice” win over the Soviet Union and helped the U.S. capture the gold. 

“That was a long time ago, but it certainly stays with us as we’ve gotten older. I remember four days after leaving Lake Placid, getting on a flight, going to Pittsburgh and getting off my flight all these TV cameras were there. It was like, ‘Wow, what am I in for here?’” he said. “But that’s the impact that event had on so many areas and so many people. I still go around to different parts of the country and people will come up to me and find out that I played in the Olympics and they will tell me exactly what they were doing on that Friday night or that Sunday morning when we beat Finland. It’s an amazing story and probably the bottom line is that I feel really honored and somewhat humbled that I was part of that group.”

Mark Johnson made his NHL debut with the Penguins in 1980

He appeared in 136 games with the Penguins and had 62 points (23+39). He was traded to Minnesota in 1982 and finished his NHL career with 508 points (203+305) in 669 games. 

Johnson joined Wisconsin’s men’s team as an assistant from the 1996-97 season until 2001-02. He took over as the women’s head coach in 2002-03 and the Badgers have excelled. Johnson led the program to a 147-28-14 record entering this season. And, Wisconsin established an NCAA-record 32-game unbeaten streak, which was snapped this year.

“Even in losses, I think you can take some things away from them,” he said. “It’s early in the season and it will certainly help us become a stronger team.” 

Johnson enjoyed coaching the Team USA women’s team at the 2006 Four Nation’s Cup and 2007 World Championship.

“The experience last year was outstanding,” he said. “It’s a great honor and it’s great to work with our elite players.” 

Now, he is focused on a formidable task – a third-straight NCAA championship

“The goal is still the same. The process and the journey to get there are going to be a little different because of the makeup of the group, but we have a good core set of players coming back and I like my freshman class. One of my keys to a successful season is to make sure we’re making improvements and getting better each weekend and we’ve been able to do that,” he said. “We’re certainly a better team now than we were a month ago. A lot of good things are happening and there is a lot of excitement in our program. Hopefully, we stay healthy and give ourselves an opportunity in late February and early March to have another run for a another championship.”

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