The Golden Touch

Wisconsin hockey legend Mark Johnson is heading back to the Olympics. Thirty years after helping the Americans shock the world by winning a gold medal in Lake Placid, Johnson will coach the women's team for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

MADISON – When asked a few weeks ago what it would mean to coach the United States Women's Olympic Hockey team, Wisconsin women's coach Mark Johnson deferred his answers, saying that he'll cross that bridge when or if it comes.

Chances now is that he won't avoid the topic any longer.

In an announcement that didn't surprise many, Mark Johnson was named the head coach of the 2010 U.S. Olympic Women's Ice Hockey Team, announced today by USA Hockey.

Johnson becomes the second coach of Team USA, replacing former Northeastern men's coach Ben Smith, who coaches the Americans to the inaugural gold medal in 1998, the silver in 2002 and the bronze in 2006.

Johnson was picked to coach the team over finalists Ohio State coach Jackie Barto and Harvard coach Katey Stone.

"When I got word that I was going to be the head coach, I was actually stunned a little bit," Johnson said. "The reality hasn't set in. If you look back at all the times have had a chance to wear the USA jersey, I have so many fond memories of having play and coach for USA Hockey. Now getting the chance to led a group of young players that are very committed and very passionate that love the sport of hockey … there's a lot of excitement.

"If you look at the different platforms we play and coach on, there's isn't a bigger one. The Olympics are the biggest."

The 2010 Vancouver Games will be far from a new experience for Johnson, who has represented the United States as a player in 13 international tournaments, including eight world championships.

His father and one-time Wisconsin coach Bob Johnson was a former executive director for the organization and coached the men's Olympic team at the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria, a team Johnson tried out for.

That experienced paved the way for Johnson to be apart of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team that upset the Soviet Union in its way to winning the gold medal in Lake Placid, a team labeled as the ‘Miracle on Ice.'

Earlier this month in Fussen, Germany, Johnson guided the U.S. to the gold medal at the 2009 International Ice Hockey Federation World Women's U18 Championship, marking the second consecutive gold medal for the U.S. in the U18 Championship.

"We're extremely happy to have Mark lead our team throughout the next year," said Michele Amidon, USA Hockey's director of women's hockey. "Through coaching within our U.S. women's national program for the past three years and guiding Wisconsin to record-breaking success, Mark has shown a great ability to connect with the players and lead teams to victory."

Johnson - a former UW standout that is the school's all-time leading goal scorer with 125 in 125 career games and won the 1977 NCAA Championship as a freshman – is in his seventh season as head coach of the Wisconsin's women's hockey team, a team that has thrust him into the college coaching limelight.

Johnson has led the women's team to the last three NCAA title games, winning championships in 2006 and '07 and his .802 winning percentage coming into the current season is tops among active coaches in NCAA Division I.

"There opportunities don't come very often," Johnson said. "It's going to be an experience of a lifetime. I can't wait to roll my sleeves up and get started."

Much like when his father took a one-year sabbatical as coach of the UW men's team to coach the Olympic Team, Johnson will begin coaching Team USA in late March/early April after he finishes his commitments with the Badgers. Johnson, who will live and coach the team in Minnesota during the process, UW assistant coaches Tracey Cornell and Dan Koch will oversee the Badgers while Johnson is gone.

"We give him our total support for his involvement in USA hockey," Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said. "We all know his success as a player, but his success as a coach and his legacy will go down as one of the greatest coaches ever."

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