Monday Press Conference: Mark Johnson

Wisconsin women's hockey coach Mark Johnson addressed the media Monday

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Opening Statement

"Well last week's temperature I thought was a good time to start hockey, but as this week progresses I think it is going to get warmer and warmer. We are real excited with our hockey team this year. It is a new challenge for our coaching staff and myself. Last year I inherited an upper class team that had a lot of experience. I lost eight players. We brought in eight new freshmen. So from my standpoint the challenge is to work with these young ladies and work on their skills, work on improving them and watch that progression over the four years they are with us. The one area that I see that is going to be a concern for us is we really don't have much experience in the net. We lost Jackie McMillan who played pretty much every game the four years she was here in Madison and did an outstanding job and had a great career. But that leaves a big hole to fill with three young goaltenders and really not much experience. So from a coaching staff standpoint that is a concern. We've got Forrest Karr our goaltending coach working with them and has been the last couple of weeks. We are making some good progress, but until you get into the games and they get tested, you are really not going to know what they are like. So from that point moving outward, we lost Sis Paulsen, one of our captains and our leading scorer last year, and Kerry Weiland Again you have to fill it with two people that are going to be younger and have not much experience, but we do have quite a good group of leaders. We have five seniors this year. Meghan Hunter, Steph Millar are our two captains and our young lady that is going to be wearing a "C" as a junior, Carla MacLeod. Back on the blue line I've got some core people coming back and we are going to incorporate with a couple young freshman. One, Kristen Witting from Beloit and another one Bobbi-Jo Slusar from Saskatchewan so, I am pretty comfortable with our blue line. And then up on the front line like last year one of our problems I think consistently over the entire season was who is going to score for us. We had a lot of 2-1, 1-0, 3-2 type games. I've got a couple of freshman I think that have the potential to be real good players and it is just a work in progress in how they adjust to Division I college game. They are very good in their respected areas. One Lindsay Macy was one of the top scorers in the state of Minnesota last year brings a lot of talent and a lot of scoring ability to the table. And now how quickly will she adjust to the college game. Another gal by the name of Meaghan Mikkelson is from Calgary and played with their oval program up there last year—very skilled, very talented, an excellent skater. I'm anxious to see her in a game. As hockey coaches you can get excited about practice, but until you drop the puck when you are playing against a different colored jersey will you really find out what your players are like. There are a lot of positive things happening on the women's side of hockey, a lot of excitement in our camp. We've been practicing now for two weeks. We open up Friday night against Vermont and it will be really our first opportunity from the coaching standpoint to see what these players are like in action."

Mark, not a truly fair question, but can you talk about Dany Heatley's situation. Has anybody you know or have you talked with either him or his father since this happened a short while ago?

"Well I think things changed after what happened yesterday, to the worse side of it. I have not been able to get a hold of him. I have not been able to get a hold of Murray, his dad. As I told a reporter this morning from Toronto, it's just a real sad situation and there is just not a lot of words that can describe it. I've been trying to get a hold of him. Both families, your thoughts and your prayers are with them, because Dany is a great kid. We all know that. He was part of our city for a couple of years. He spent probably six or seven weeks here this past summer. If you know him and you understand him, the bottom line is he's a great kid. You just feel bad for him that he has to go through this and it's unfortunate now that someone has lost their life in this situation. I'm not sure where it's going to go from here, but I'm sure it's going to get a little bit worse than it is right now in a lot of aspects. You just pray for Dany and you pray for his brother who's on campus, you pray for Murray and his wife and you just hope that somewhere down the road that maybe something good will come out of it. You don't know what it is right now, but it's obviously a scar that Dany is going to have to carry with him the rest of his life. Hope his knees are OK, his shoulder's OK and at some point he's able to get back to playing hockey, because that may be the only point when he gets back on the ice where he can relieve some of the things that he's going to be going through emotionally here in the next whatever time period. It's a tough situation and it's unfortunate and you knock on wood that it doesn't happen to people that you're really close to. You just feel bad for everybody involved. You feel bad for the (Atlanta) Thrashers organization and what were high hopes after a strong finish last year and the opportunity to make the playoffs for the first time. It's just a real grieving-type process.

Mark on a somewhat more upbeat note… the idea of an expanded tournament for women's college hockey has to be something that you're happy with.

"Yes, thanks for bringing that up, I should have mentioned it earlier. Starting in 2005, the women's NCAA will expand to eight. It's really coming…I probably should have been here a little bit earlier after what we saw last year with about really eight, 10, 12 quality teams that could have represented the women's side at the tournament. But I know a lot of the coaches that I have talked to around the different leagues are real excited because it will give us a chance to have four more teams involved in trying to grab that trophy at the end of the year and we will have more people talking about our sport. The exposure we got last year with the final game with (Minnesota-) Duluth winning in a couple of overtimes and having that game on TV, it was great exposure for our sport because people saw one, an excellent hockey game, but more importantly they saw a real good brand of hockey. I think going to eight teams from now on will help the sport continue to grow."

How different is the comfort level for you this year going into the season, your second season, as opposed the whirlwind and everything that led up to you taking over the program?

"Well, I mean you've been around the block once now. You've been to Minnesota you've been at (Minnesota-)Duluth, you've weathered the weekend up in Bemidji (Minn.) wearing your long underwear and trying to stay warm coaching a game. The challenge this year is the inexperience at the different positions that we lost key people. How quickly will these individuals that we brought in be able to step up and contribute. We are high and excited about the entire freshman class. It's just a matter of how quickly are they going to be able to make a contribution. From my standpoint, in this business you never really get comfortable. I think you get more excited than ever get comfortable because it's a long summer, you don't really have a lot of contact with your athletes. Then you get them back on campus and you're doing conditioning and you're doing some of the small sessions from a coaching standpoint. The fun starts this weekend when you play games and you really get an indication of what type of identity your team is going to give you. Last year we were very experienced, the identity was there. We just pushed some buttons that hadn't been pushed before with that group and they did a very good job. They were very consistent. This year's team sort of has to come up with their own identity. That has been the challenge and that's what we've been challenging them as coaches because when you bring in eight new people they have to get to know one another, they've got to have some struggles, they've got to have some adversity and that's part of the growing process. That's going to take some time, so we're anxious from a coaching standpoint to see them playing games and I think more importantly, I want to see where they are in the early part and the middle part of January from a team togetherness and cohesiveness as a group as they become closer and really emphasize playing for each other and playing for the team. We've got the capabilities to become a pretty good hockey team. As I mentioned earlier, my biggest concern is in net. If we move along and we gain some confidence and one of our three goalies steps out and really establishes herself as a No. 1 goalie, then we might get a little more comfortable. But right now it's more anxiety and I'm anxious to see us play."

You decided to play most of your games at the Kohl Center, the reasoning behind that? Obviously it's your home rink, but it might be more intimate at other settings. Why did you choose the Kohl Center?

"I think last year we used it sort of as a year to find out where would be the best place for us to play. If you look at all the things to put on a hockey game, and the one thing the Kohl Center doesn't present is the atmosphere you would like, but if you look at all the other little things as far as where the visitors can dress, how easy it is to get our equipment over to the building, it's easy for our players to get to the rink from whether they're living in the dorms or apartments. So when we took a whole look at the big picture in the Kohl Center, along with the men's schedule, we piggyback them a little bit when the ice is already in here. Why do we need to drive over to pay somebody to rent ice and rent a facility and take the management part of it to run the game? We were able to take a couple of weekends that the men were playing and piggyback with them. It's still a process that you still have to look at, so at the end of the year we'll look back and say ‘it was a great idea' or ‘it wasn't a great idea' but you have to some identity is probably the bottom line. I know one thing in hockey and whether it's men or women, if people know where you're playing and you're consistent in playing at the same spot, playing on consistent days and times, they're more apt to come and join you and watch the games than if you're all over the place and you're picking up the paper and one night you're in Middleton and the next night you're in Verona. If you're all over the map, people will tend not to follow you as if you establish a facility. My feeling was the Kohl Center, along with what happens with the men's schedule if it presents itself, is the best place for us to play."

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