Jan. 21, 2013
• Watch Johnson's Press Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin women’s hockey head coach Mark Johnson spoke about Wisconsin's upcoming Border Battle series against Minnesota, among other things.
Archived video of the media session is available through the link above, and a complete transcript of Johnson’s remarks can be found below.
Johnson: I think, as we look to Friday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, in our previous four games, against Ohio State at home and this past weekend up in Grand Forks against North Dakota, both series were like playoff games, if you want to call January the playoffs. Hopefully, the four games that we've previously played is certainly going to help us as we prepare for Minnesota this weekend.
Obviously, Minnesota's playing well, playing confidently, not many weaknesses within their group. It's a big test for us and also a great opportunity. As Brian mentioned, being in second place right now, if you have some success this weekend, it keeps you there, and certainly in the big picture it helps in a lot of different areas.
Had a nice workout today and look forward to the next couple of days of practice as we watch video and prepare ourselves for Friday afternoon.
Question 1: Mark, after playing them in the final last year, I'm sure you had a feeling they'd be pretty decent again this year, the Golden Gophers. Is that true?
Johnson: Absolutely. As you spend the summer and prepare for the fall, they certainly had pieces coming back. As I see with my teams too, you get over that hurdle and win the NCAA Championship, it gives you a lot of confidence, especially for those returning players.
Now they've experienced it. They've climbed to the top and won the whole thing. Obviously, the pieces that they brought back and certainly the freshman class that they brought in, you know, is one of the reasons they're undefeated.
Question 2: Can you just comment on the irony that they have this 32 game winning streak, which ties your record, and now you have the chance to kind of put an end to that.
Johnson: I didn't realize it until Brian mentioned it just two minutes ago. The task for us is to obviously look at some video this week, try to figure out some ways that can help us be successful. Obviously, nobody's been able to do that up to this point. Like I say, their confidence is high. They've got some components within their game that make it very difficult to defeat.
So we'll spend the next couple days trying to figure out a game plan, and I think, one, being a little bit more healthy going into this series than we were previously when we went up and played up in Minneapolis helps us a little bit. Hopefully, we'll be able to sustain 60 minutes some of the things that we did well up in Minneapolis when we played them earlier in the season.
It's going to be an entertaining game. They've got a couple of high caliber players. Usually, the history tells us, in the last seven or eight years when we've gotten together, games are pretty exciting and a lot of fun.
Question 3: Mark, when you look at their stat sheet, where does your eye go first? Does it go to their goaltender, whose numbers are almost ridiculous, or does it go to the top of the scoring chart?
Johnson: Initially for me, especially after we played them the Friday night game, or Saturday game up in Minneapolis, was they defend well. Their defensemen, they have good size. They have long sticks. They make it very challenging and difficult to get into scoring areas.
When you're fortunate enough to get into there, Raty has proven over the course of time that she's very capable and can win a game all by herself. Initially, you say, well, they score a lot of goals, which they do. To me, they defend equally as well.
So people have asked, well, do they have a weak point? Their special teams are good. They defend well, and they score a lot of goals. No, they don't really have a lot of weaknesses. That's the fun part and the challenge that we have at hand.
The games we played up there, the first game we played, we played probably 45 or 50 minutes of a pretty good 60 minute game. We fell asleep for a couple three, four minutes, and they capitalized. Our second game was 1 0 most of the game. In those situations, when you do have an opportunity, especially with the score tied, if you can capitalize on it and get ahead of them, it presents a little bit different challenge for them.
They haven't fallen behind too often this year, and so again you get back what can we do in the video session to find some things that can make us successful this weekend? And that's the task that we have in hand right now.
Question 4: Mark, there aren't many coaches who have felt like the Minnesota coaches do right now, where you've got so many things working well. You might be one of them. What's that like? What's knowing what's being able to put a lineup together that you know is going to score goals? That you've got a great goaltender backing you up. You've got a veteran corps of defensemen, and you're on a roll. What's that like?
Johnson: In our business, whether you're undefeated or having a challenging year or whether you're in the middle of that, you never get comfortable. If things are rolling along and you're on an extended winning streak, you're not comfortable because you want to make sure you keep challenging your players and motivating them.
Sometimes when you're winning for them, they seem to be winning quite easily of late and so the challenge as a head coach is to try to motivate and try to generate that willingness to come to practice every day and try to improve. In our business, you're never comfortable. Whether you're 32-0 or you're 0-32, you're trying to find different ways to get your group to become better.
That's the task at hand for us today. We found a way to win Saturday night in a very I don't want to say physical game, but I will say physical game. So at the end of the night, we're getting on the bus to leave Grand Forks, and my trainer Denny is out of ice bags, we pay a price to win a game. It was a big victory for us.
Coming home Saturday was enjoyable, and it makes this week a little more easier than if we would not have been successful Saturday. It's a good challenge. These are the type of weekends, as a player and I know, I played in those series against Minnesota back when that rivalry was certainly as heated as any in college hockey. As a coach, the players, they motivate themselves on these type of weeks.
So the challenges that we have is just to strategically try to come up with some things, one or two or maybe three items that will give us maybe a little bit of an edge or give us an opportunity to be successful.
Question 5: Mark, how has your team played since coming back from the break?
Johnson: I would say our Friday night game up in Grand Forks, I'd call it like vanilla. We didn't play as well as I thought we were going to play. They threw some things at us and kept us on our heels in certain parts of the game. Of all the games we played, that was probably the one that I would probably like to have back and try to figure out what we needed to do in preparation of that game to change it.
I like the way we responded coming back Saturday night. Overall, the games against Ohio State again, you're talking about almost like playoff atmospheres where the games are so meaningful and can be so important, if you win those games, as far as us being so together in the standings. No different than North Dakota. For them, you read the papers going up there, it was do or die for them. They wanted to sweep us. It was a playoff atmosphere.
And the way things are looking in the standings, we're not going to be as deep as far as the numbers, as far as the national tournament, if you look at the picture right now. So it's jockeying for position, battling. I liked our games against Ohio State and certainly like the way we played Saturday night up in Grand Forks.
Question 6: Mark, I got the impression, when you guys in a couple of your dominant years, that there was an intimidation factor going on, that you had an edge over teams before you even took the ice. I'm just curious if you've seen that in some opponents of Minnesota because Minnesota has, you mentioned, there is no real weak area for them, that they maybe have an edge before they even take the ice in some games?
Johnson: Well, that's you mention confidence, and when a team's playing with confidence, which they are, that probably in their mind gives them some kind of edge. Again, the great thing about our sport and other sports is you've got to drop the puck and you've got to play.
So our two previous games against them have been strong. We've shown signs that we're able to play at that level. Now it's that ability to be consistent the full 60 minutes. They're going to come in there, and they play fast. Their offense is very strong. They come from different areas. Their power play is good. So there's some challenges.
It's no different than what we saw this past weekend up in Grand Forks or the previous weekend against Ohio State. Both those groups had wonderful power plays. They could be dangerous. They could score.
So the nice thing that we have, compared to their previous two games against Minnesota, is that we'll have last line change. That caused us a little bit of a challenge up there where they were in control of the matchups. Hopefully, with us having the last matchups or who we want to play against their players will give us a little bit more advantage compared to what we had up in Minneapolis.
Question 7: Mark, knowing how difficult the WCHA has been over the years, did you ever ponder the idea that a team could get through the regular season unbeaten, that a team would be in this position at this point?
Johnson: Most likely, no, because over the course of the 28 game schedule that we play against each other, there's going to be at least one game or a couple of games where you're not at the top of your game, where you don't get the bounces or calls late in the game on a penalty, something happens. To get through it undefeated would be a big task.
Certainly, as you get later in the season, if you're fortunate enough to be in that position after 22 or 24 or 25 games, people start talking about it, and other teams will get a little bit more motivated to try to beat you.
As we found in the past, when you're No. 1, when you're undefeated, when you're defending National Championships, usually a team will give you their best shot. If not on both nights, certainly one of the nights. So that's a task that they have to deal with.
We're not interested in that. We're interested in trying to figure out how to beat them Friday afternoon