To Penguins fans, “Badger” Bob Johnson was the iconic and optimistic head coach that led Pittsburgh to its first Stanley Cup championship in 1991 before tragically passing away just six months later.
But for all of “Badger” Bob's numerous on-ice accomplishments, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton video coach Scott McConnell will always remember him as more than just a legendary hockey coach. McConnell fondly remembers him as his grandfather, and he’s been amazed by how adored his grandfather is in the city of Pittsburgh.
“To walk in here and see the affection that the city shows him and how much he is still loved, it blew me away,” McConnell said. “I’m extremely fortunate that the city of Pittsburgh and this organization holds him in such a high regard. I’m honored to be here. I’m honored to be a part of the organization.”
McConnell was hired by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this offseason and is in Pittsburgh for the organization’s training camp. As he walked into the Penguins locker room, McConnell was greeted by a saying very familiar to his family. Inscribed on a wall as you enter is Johnson’s legendary philosophy: “It’s a great day for hockey.”
I was a little overwhelmed when I walked in. I haven’t been to Mellon Arena since I was 12 and walking in here and seeing his picture and his saying, ‘It’s a great day for hockey,’ that’s been a part of my family since I was born. I’m honored just to be in the same locker room that they were. - Scott McConnell
“I was a little overwhelmed when I walked in,” McConnell said. “I haven’t been to Mellon Arena since I was 12 and walking in here and seeing his picture and his saying, ‘It’s a great day for hockey,’ that’s been a part of my family since I was born. I’m honored just to be in the same locker room that they were, even if it’s just for a short amount of time.”
Even though McConnell was only 12 years old when his grandfather passed away, he still retains fond memories of the man.
“I was the oldest grandson so I got to know him more than the rest of the kids in my family,” McConnell said. “He was a very special man. His pure enthusiasm for waking up everyday was something that was so amazing. My main memory was that even if there was a bad day, he always took something positive away from it. That’s something that I’ve tried to carry with me for a long time.”
And away from ice, McConnell remembers how intimate Johnson made those around him feel when he speaking to them.
“He was so special in his ability to make someone feel like they’re the only person in the room that he’s talking to,” McConnell said. “When he spoke to someone there was always a little bit of compassion in it. That’s something I remember more than the actual hockey stuff. It’s still stuff that he carried onto the ice. He lived his life the way he coached. There aren’t many people that follow that tradition.”
McConnell played college hockey at the University of Denver before joining the coaching ranks.
“It was an easy transition,” he said. “I didn’t play much in college. It got to the point where I was either going to coach or be out of the game. I transitioned pretty easy and moved up the ladder pretty quickly.”
After college McConnell coached a junior-B team in southern California and was an assistant manager at the rink.
“You have to pay your dues and put your time in,” McConnell joked with a smile. “Good things will happen if you put your nose to the grindstone and keep working. That’s all I’m doing right now.”
McConnell got his first coaching job in the United States Hockey League with the Indiana Ice. After three seasons with Indiana, McConnell moved on to coach with Des Moines.
Being around the world of college and USA hockey, McConnell has grown relationships with many people on the Penguins coaching staff, including Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coaches Todd Reirden and John Hynes.
“I know Todd from Bowling Green and I know John from USA Hockey. We’re both USA Hockey guys,” McConnell said. “They and I felt it would be a good situation for me to go down to Wilkes-Barre to help John and Todd and become a part of that coaching staff.”
And now McConnell will make the leap to the American Hockey League. Although he is pursuing a career in coaching, McConnell isn’t trying to necessarily follow his grandfather’s path.
“I can’t tell you I’m going to follow in his footsteps,” McConnell said. “I don’t think anyone could. But it’s pretty special to be here. I was given an opportunity of a lifetime here and it’s something I really cherish.”