SELKIRK -- Long before the Calgary Flames, before Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was all about watching Badgers.
It always was and it will always will be about Badger, singular this time, and specifically of the University of Wisconsin variety. Bob Johnson, the longtime coach and friend of the United States hockey program earned the handle 'Badger Bob' from his days as the coach of the Wisconsin men's hockey team, a position he held for over 15 years.
In that time behind the Badger bench, another Johnson was nearby, unknowingly taking notes for a career path he never dreamed of following.
"I started off as a stick boy there, so I was around the locker-room quite a bit," Mark Johnson, coach of the U.S. women's team at the 2007 World Women's Hockey Championships, said yesterday. "I watched a lot of good players come through Wisconsin and saw championships there, so I was getting a great education day by day. You always look at the leader, who's running the ship, and as a youngster you don't always look at it as you would as an adult but as I looked back, I realized I did pick up a few things from him. When somebody is passionate and they're good at it -- as my father was -- obviously some of those things will come to you and your philosophy.
"People talk about the things he did, but I watched him close, every day and how much he loved coaching and working with players. I saw it first hand."
Badger Bob's story is as well-known as it is tragic. A respected hockey man for his tireless teaching, Johnson, as Penguins head coach, claimed hockey's ultimate prize in 1991 -- in his home state of Minnesota, no less. The Stanley Cup certification turned to uncertainly for the Johnsons as Badger was diagnosed with brain cancer shortly thereafter. He passed away later that year.
Mark Johnson retired from playing soon after that (1992), and like his dad, turned toward coaching. In 1996 he joined the Wisconsin men's team as an assistant, moving into the women's program as the head man in 2002. Adding legitimacy to genetics, his Badgers club just claimed another NCAA women's hockey championship. Their second in as many seasons.
"I guess it's in the blood," he laughed.
Johnson, 49, has already seen a lot in hockey, whether it's winning championships as a coach or skating through three very productive seasons for his father at Wisconsin (1976-79). He carved out a decent 11-year NHL career and a claimed a place in hockey lore as the miracle man on the U.S. squad that knocked off the Soviets at Lake Placid in the 1980 Olympics (he scored two goals in that famous upset). One of his most memorable hockey moments, though, comes not as a player or as a coach or even as a stick boy, but as a son.
Watching Badger. Again.
"I remember in Minneapolis, going down to the locker-room after the (Penguins) won the Stanley Cup and seeing the special smile on my dad's face as he was hoisting the cup," said Johnson. "It was something that I've never seen from him before. That was a special championship for our family. To see him be that happy."
One might say it was a great day for hockey.