US coach brings best of both worlds

Blends old school coaching with a fresh approach

By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER — So who does United States women’s hockey boss Mark Johnson’s coaching style most reflect?

His dad — the universally upbeat, encouraging Badger Bob — or hard-liner Herb Brooks, his fiery boss when he starred for the 1980 Miracle on Ice team?

Fourth-time Olympian and Harvard grad Angela Ruggerio didn’t answer questions this tough in Donald Trump’s boardroom on The Apprentice.

“Be careful,” Johnson warned her.

“If I want to play on the power play, I’ll say... ” Ruggerio said to laughter. “No, we all have a deep respect for Coach Johnson. He brings passion and enthusiasm to the rink every day and it’s contagious.

“So I’ll say his father seems like the better fit.”

Johnson is the blend of old school and fresh approach USA Hockey felt it needed to rejuvenate its women’s program after its embarrassing bronze medal four years ago in Turin.

His dad coached the Americans at the 1976 Olympics. He was a big factor in the greatest Olympic upset at Lake Placid so has an inspirational Brooks-like speech or two at his disposal.

And now, the Wisconsin women’s coach is being asked to bring the U.S. women back to their former golden glory of 1998 on arch-rival Canadian soil.

“When my dad took his first NHL coaching job in Calgary, it took the reporters there about two months to figure him out,” Johnson said. “They didn’t know someone could be that genuine. They thought he was a phony at first. But I had grown up in that environment every day and knew how positive a person he could be.

“And Herb, I’ve told people the movie (Miracle) actually made him look like a pretty nice guy.”

There has been a house-cleaning of sorts in the American ranks. Only six players remain from the Turin team.

“I don’t think we’ll be looking past anyone,” the 30-year-old Ruggerio said. “We did a little bit before we played Sweden (in the ’06 semifinal) and it cost us.”

They also want to repay the sting of losing on home ice to Canada eight years ago at Salt Lake City.

“I hope it’s Canada (in the final),” Ruggerio said. “I always say playing Canada is like Christmas for me. It’s the rivalry that never goes away. There are no trades. Just two teams who bring out the best out of one another.”

Ruggerio and teammate Jenny Potter already have a perfect set Olympic medals — gold, silver, bronze.

“They travel together but the gold (from ”98) is the one everyone wants to see,” Ruggerio said. “It’s a little more beat up than the others.”

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