March 4, 2011
MADISON, Wis. -- The coach and player like to get together once a week to catch up on things as father and son.
“I can be a sounding board and give him some advice,” said Mark Johnson, the coach-father
“He’s always there for me and I’m always there for him,” said Patrick Johnson, the player-son.
Such has been their relationship the last four seasons at Wisconsin. While Mark Johnson has been coaching the women’s hockey team, Patrick Johnson has been playing for Mike Eaves and the men.
Patrick Johnson has no regrets, either, about being a Johnson at a school where the Johnson name has been immortalized in hockey because of his legendary father and grandfather.
Mark Johnson was not only an Olympic hero in Lake Placid; he was the most prolific goal-scorer in UW history. Since taking over the women’s program, he has won three national championships.
That’s the same number of titles Mark’s dad, Bob Johnson, won at Wisconsin. Badger Bob was the sport’s greatest ambassador; a bigger than life character who also won a Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh.
Some days may not be long enough to get everything done.
But every day is a great day for hockey in the Johnson clan.
“There has been a lot of pressure with having my last name,” admitted Patrick Johnson, a 5-foot-9, 158-pound senior. “But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love my family; I love my dad and my grandpa and what they’ve done for this program. And this was 100 percent the right place for me.”
Mark Johnson made sure that his son knew what he would be getting himself into before committing to the Badgers. “I told him it’s not going to be easy,” he said. “There are going to be people talking, whether it’s early, in the middle or at the end of your career. Do you want to deal with it?”
Do you want to deal with being Mark Johnson’s son and Bob Johnson’s grandson? And do you want to do it in the community and on the campus that so adored them? It never goes away. In retrospect, Mark couldn’t be prouder of Patrick knowing “it can be hard. It was hard for me.”
Mark Johnson played for Bob Johnson. So did his brother Peter Johnson. In many respects, it was tougher on Peter after Mark established himself as an All-American. “Because he was following in a couple of shadows,” Mark said. “And everyone compared us. Fair or unfair, people were going to do it.”
Eaves understands the coach/player and father/son dynamic better than most. Besides being a coach’s kid, himself, and Mark Johnson’s teammate in the late ‘70s at Wisconsin, he had two sons (Patrick and Ben) who played their college hockey for someone else: Jerry York at Boston College.
“When Patrick is done with school and his career, it will be something I’d like to talk to him about when he can separate himself (from the here and now),” said Eaves, whose younger brother Murray played at Michigan. “I don’t know how you could not feel some of that pressure.
“There’s no other way to put it with the Johnson name and legacy. But I think Patrick has handled it all tremendously. He has been his own person. He has stumbled and tripped and fallen in the mud and we’ve helped him back up and he has learned and grown over the four years.
“One of the greatest things about Patrick is that he has life, he’s got spunk. He enjoys coming to the rink and he gives you everything that he has. He doesn’t have the letter (C for captain) on his jersey but he’s clearly been one of the guys who have stepped up on the bench and in the locker room.’’
This is senior weekend for Eaves’ team. Patrick’s mother, Leslie, will be at the Kohl Center while his dad is coaching the Badger women in the WCHA’s Final Faceoff event in Minneapolis. “My mom will be a little emotional and it will be tough for her,” Patrick Johnson said.
What about his own emotion? What will he feel as a senior? “We have a game to play so we can’t be too emotional,” he said. “We have business to tend to and that’s what we’ll be thinking about. But it does feel like we just got to college and now it’s almost over.”
What about Mark Johnson? What does he think about not being there to see his son being recognized with the rest of the seniors? “That’s the nature of the business – my dad didn’t see me play too much unless I was playing for him and then he saw me all the time,” he said.
How would Mark assess Patrick’s career with the Badgers? “He’s had a good senior year,” he said. “He’s found a role and I think he’s done it very well. He can walk away proud of what he did. I’m sure though he will look back and wish he had done this or that, but everyone does that.”
Patrick Johnson, for one, is on track to earn his degree this summer – in a little over four years. He can be very proud of what he has accomplished under that timetable. His dad is. Although he’s unsure of his future plans, he would like “to try and play hockey and then maybe coach.”
Has he lived up to his own expectations? “Some I’ve reached and some I haven’t,” he said. “Obviously winning a national title is one of them and I still have a chance at one. But you’re always going to have stuff you’re not going to reach – dreams that you wanted to get to.”
What has his dad taught him? “Be humble and never give up,” he said.
Through the thick and the thin, through the good times and the bad.
Mark Johnson’s individual greatness may have lessened the pressure on Patrick Johnson. “My dad was a totally different player – a goal-scorer, a playmaker, an Olympian,” he said. “I’m not going to be compared to that at all. But I loved following in his footsteps and I’ve established myself a little bit.”
A smiling Mark Johnson interjected, “Patrick is a feistier player than I was obviously. He goes into the corners and picks on the big guys. I let my wingers do that.”
Coach and player will have a lot to talk about over lunch next week as father and son.
“It helps us both,” Patrick Johnson said.
“He can always help me out,” Mark Johnson said.
By Mike Lucas