Today is a wonderful day. Why, you ask? Because today we're talking about Mark Johnson. Believe me when I say that it does not get much better than Mark Johnson. The dude is a big. freaking. deal. I was in his presence once and I was, like, completely overwhelmed. So please, take a moment and ready yourself before we get started. This is going to be kind of long, because there's just SO MUCH to say!
+ Mark Johnson was all but destined to be hockey royalty. His dad is legendary coach Bob Johnson, also known as Badger Bob from his tenure at the University of Wisconsin. Mark grew up surrounded by the game -- even playing pick-up games in makeshift Soviet uniforms, and had a homemade rink in the backyard of his house -- and therefore had a phenomenal hockey IQ from an extremely young age.
+ Badger Bob was hired as the coach of the 1976 Olympic hockey team, and added Mark to the roster for the pre-Olympic season... when Mark was in his senior year of high school. Bob ended up cutting Mark before the Olympics, but only for political reasons; there were people that thought he was only on the team because his dad was the coach, and he'd get blamed for losses because he was "just a high school player." Bob didn't want his son dealing with that kind of pressure and verbal abuse, so he left Mark off the Olympic roster (and subsequently regretted that decision). But Mark started college later that year, playing for his dad at Wisconsin. He faced the same kind of skepticism in college as he did on the '76 Olympic team, but he quietly worked his tail off and pretty soon his skill started speaking for itself. He shut the haters up pretty good. By the time 1979 rolled around, Mark was far and away one of the best college hockey players in the country, and had won the NCAA championship with Wisconsin in 1977. In fact, Mark is still Wisconsin's all-time leading scorer. His name is literally all over Wisconsin's record book. It's kind of ridiculous.
+ Even though Herb and Badger Bob were bitter rivals, Herb added Mark to the Olympic team roster without a second thought. Mark actually had food poisoning during tryouts, but Herb didn't even have to see him try out to know he needed him for the team. In fact, very early on in the pre-Olympic season, Herb had a private conversation with Mark and told him that the team was going to go as far as Mark took it. PAUSE AND THINK ABOUT THIS. Mark was the leading scorer in the pre-Olympic season, with 33 goals and 48 assists (81 points) in 52 games. He was also the leading scorer (and team MVP) in the Olympic tournament, with five goals and six assists (11 points) in seven games. Mark scored two of his goals during round robin play, and both ended up being game-winners. Casual. He scored TWICE against the Soviets (NO BIG DEAL), and scored the final goal of the Olympics (short-handed, by the way) for the U.S. But let's talk about the Soviet game, shall we? I firmly believe that Mark's first goal in this game was the most important American goal in this tournament, bar none. Seriously, this goal is basically my religion. He scored with one second left in the first period -- because everyone but him had already slacked off and stopped playing, but Mark kept hustling until he heard the buzzer, just like he was taught -- and tied the game at 2-2. This gave the U.S. a TON of momentum, and prompted the Soviet coach to pull Vladislav Tretiak from the net. Tretiak is one of the best goalies in hockey history, and players on both teams believe that pulling Tretiak was like cutting the head off the Soviet dragon. Without this goal, the miracle on ice does. not. happen. Mark was also the focus of another pivotal moment, in the game against Czechoslovakia. He was injured on a cheap shot towards the end of the game, and Herb absolutely lost it. He was apoplectic with rage, and said in an interview after the game that "Mark Johnson is really the guy that makes us go, day after day." Mike Eruzione has said "without Mark Johnson, we don't win." In a nutshell: MARK JOHNSON WAS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. His Olympic teammates went so far as to call him Magic. (Yes, like the basketball Magic Johnson.) But you'd never know any of this about him; he's introverted, quiet, laid-back and mellow, and is perfectly content to stay out of the limelight. And MODEST. Holy modest.
+ Mark had been drafted into the NHL in 1977, and signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins after the Olympics. He played in the NHL for 10 years for several franchises, appearing in the 1984 All Star game and serving as the Hartford Whalers' team captain from 1983-85. He wrapped up his NHL career with several seasons with the New Jersey Devils (with Neal Broten's brother Aaron!), and even his professional teammates credit him with making every player around him better. He retired in 1992 after playing several seasons in Europe.
+ After his playing career was over, Mark followed in his dad's footsteps and turned to coaching. He spent six years as the Wisconsin men's assistant coach and applied for the head coaching job in 2002, but was ultimately passed over. (Those complete fools!) But in that same year, he became the head coach of the Wisconsin women's team. He was a little worried about making the transition from men's hockey to women's hockey, and the women's program was in complete disarray... but I'd say he's been pretty successful. Actually, everyone would say he's been pretty successful. Mark coached the Badgers to NCAA titles in 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2011, and was the head coach of the national women's team from 2006-2010. So, 30 years after he was an Olympian himself, he coached the U.S. women to an Olympic silver medal in Vancouver.
Mark Johnson the coach! Photos taken without zooming in! ;)
Do you understand now why I was flipping out about being in the same breathing space as this guy? He's the definition of legendary. And, as this video shows, he's just an all-around winner of a human being!