Sept. 25, 2012
• Watch Johnson News Conference
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin women's hockey coach Mark Johnson spoke to the media on Monday at the weekly press conference held at Camp Randall Stadium.
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: Thanks, Brian. Certainly a pleasure to be in front of you. Summer's gone by. As I found out the last couple of mornings walking my dog, temperature's gone down. It's a little chilly down there. I guess hockey is upon us.
We had our first official practice Saturday, which was a red/white scrimmage at the Kohl Center. Did it early to get a view. We sort of take it, especially with probably one of our bigger freshmen classes this year, the opportunity to a game day situation. So warm-ups similar to what we would do in front of a game. Bring referees in, have an introduction, use the Jumbotron, do all of the things that they would see in a game in more of a controlled atmosphere.
So as we approach next Friday and get into our season, our freshmen will at least have an idea what a game day looks like. So it was good. We're certainly excited about our opportunities. One of the things about this team, we're going to have some good leadership. Our captain this year is going to be Brianna Decker, coming off a wonderful season being named the Patty Kazmaier winner. Stefanie McKeough, Jordan Brickner and Alex Rigsby will help her as assistant captains. So I think from a leadership standpoint especially to our younger players and our freshmen, they'll be helpful to them.
They've all had an opportunity to play for some national teams and understand what it is to make commitments to be a good Division I college hockey player. That's going to help us in the process, especially early on this season.
As Brian mentioned, next week we get to move into our new facilities. Hopefully, you got a chance to either see it in person or see it via the website, and it's exciting. I know I've talked to Mike on a number of occasions. We've watched it develop. We've watched it grow similar to what I did when they built the Kohl Center many years ago. There's a lot of excitement, not only within the hockey programs, but I think within some of the other sports they're going to be touched by the facility. I feel very fortunate, excited for the athletes who are going to get an opportunity to be part of that, move next week, and then the big night Friday, October 19th, when we have our opening game in the new facility.
Question 1: Mark, would you say that your program reloads?
Johnson: I don't know if we reload. I don't know what the word is. From a coaching standpoint, you graduate kids. You recruit new players to come into your program, and then you start the process with those young kids. I mean, I think that, to me, and if you talk to Dan or Jackie, my assistants, that's the fun part of our business.
As I look at this incoming freshman class, the expectations stay the same. The goals stay the same as a group, but the fun part is to watch them develop. And so as we watch them go through their first scrimmage on Saturday, we've got areas that we have to grow in, and that takes some time. That's what makes our job enjoyable, that you make them better players. You give them opportunities like some of the kids in the past have. If they're willing to commit, if they're willing to do the little things and prepare themselves when their opportunities are presented, hopefully, they'll have the same success as some of our past players and our past teams.
Reload? No, I would think your basic philosophy in recruiting, what type of kids, what type of families you want to bring into your program. I think that doesn't change too much. Just new faces with new numbers on. And you get your four or five practices, and then we open up the season up in Mankato with a league game.
Question 2: Mark, where's the big area that Brianna Decker can improve her game from where she was last year? What have you seen from her that you hoped she would improve, and where has she improved in the minutes you've spent with her so far?
Johnson: Very similar to some of the other players that have walked in her shoes, and whether it's been Hilary (Knight), whether it's been Meghan Dugan, Erika Lawler, Carla MacLeod, some of the kids who aspired to be the best they're capable of being.
With Brianna, like some of the others I mentioned, her daily routine, her approach to the game, her approach to her profession doesn't change. She continues to want to become a better player. If you watch her practices, if you watch her conduct herself, she does all the right things to continue to elevate her game. So whether she goes up to Calgary this past summer with an under-22 team playing against the Canadian group up there, you know, she wants to be the best player on the ice.
I think from a leadership standpoint, with her wearing the "C", bodes well for the other kids and especially our younger kids. If I want to be a better player, you're getting a great visual of how to become that. I think the way Brianna conducts herself indicates to me that not only she wants to have a great senior season, but she wants to continue and has high goals for herself.
Question 3: Mark, could you speak to the unique aspect of your freshman class in the sense that you have your daughter, you have a player who is the daughter of a former player who played for the men's team, and you also have the sister of a player on the men's team. Title IX being what it is, that would seem to indicate that quite a wave is coming through your program.
Johnson: Yeah, it's a different look to it. As you indicated, and so it's this path you come down, and normally you go right, and you've got a group of freshmen coming in. This year, there's just some signs there that are different than normal, having a daughter in the program, having my brother's former roommate their freshman year in the program. Like you say, having a sister of one of the men's players on the team is interesting.
Do I have a great answer for you? Probably not. I was a son, and my dad was the coach here. I remember the first month of the season, it was trying. And I think one of the things I relied on was trusting him as a coach. Not as a father, but as a coach. So as he approached our team that season coming back from the Olympics, I had to trust that he knew what he was doing.
My job was to come to practice every day. Depending on where I was and who I was playing with, to do the best job that I was capable of doing. I remember going up to Minnesota my freshman year too and hearing things that you normally wouldn't hear and fans relating to the other team.
So it will be interesting. I don't have a great answer for you other than the fact that I've known Lexi (Doner), Molly (Doner) last year made a commitment to leave her home state, her schooling that she was situated out in Washington and move out to Vermont for the winter and ended up playing 85 games with the group she was playing with last year. She grew as a player, and so now her opportunity, like her father, is in front of her.
Great kid, wonderful student. Lexi married a gal from Madison, so she's got a lot of support around her. I think it will be exciting. And hearing her brother go through it for a couple of years understands the system that we’re under as far as academics, how do I get around, where do I go, how do I get there? So as she comes into our program, it's a little easier for her from that standpoint because she has somebody that she can lean on.
As for my daughter, it will probably be tougher on her, as for me, the first little while, trying to get her feet wet and get an understanding of how the process works, how do I get to class, how do I go there.
The one thing that I can relate to her is similar that I went through. You live in a dorm. You see your father at work every day, but that's basically it and then maybe on the odd weekend. You know, you might sneak home on a Sunday night and get your laundry done and get a free meal, but other than that, I'll probably end up seeing her about the same amount as I see the other players.
Good question. Get back to you.
Question 4: Mark, since you took the program over, how would you gauge the expansion and talent, both from an individual player perspective and depth of quality teams both in the league and nationally?
Johnson: I think certainly the first probably three or four years the talent pool each year was increasing very rapidly. Going out and watching and recruiting now, you see the base continue to grow. The number of young girls that are playing has gone up steadily the last six, seven years, if you look at statistics that USA Hockey puts out. So we have more kids playing.
The exciting part is we have more coaches that are very qualified to help these kids through the process, create competition, create environments where they're going to get better. I think you've seen it within our league that teams have gotten stronger, and I say that because probably four or five years ago some of the teams in our league were able to put one or two lines together where now everybody is three deep. Some teams are four lines deep. Everybody's got players that can make differences and it just creates a more competitive environment.
You see new teams get mentioned in the top ten and the top four get to the Frozen Four. So the growth of the sport continues to go up. The quality of players increases. So I think from the product and what people are seeing, it's very encouraging.
Question 5: Mark, you had the most efficient penalty kill in the country last year. Obviously, Alex (Rigsby)'s play really involved in that. How more efficient can that unit be this year, in your eyes?
Johnson: It's going to be different because you're going to have different personnel. The one thing we do have with this group is we have good pieces coming back. So you generally start from the net out. Obviously, with Alex's past two seasons, being healthy all summer, getting a chance to work out, we're solid in the nets.
You look at our defensive corps, the six or seven that have been around have played. They've played in big games, and so from the defensive standpoint, the goal you know, we should be in pretty good position. Up front is obviously where some concerns start, but when you have Brianna leading the pack, that's a good place to start with.
It's probably going to be scoring goals by committee this year in regards to the three forwards we lost last year, I think, ended up having 92 goals collectively. So who's going to fill in there? Well, it's opportunities for other players. Madison Packer, Brittany Ammerman look good right now. Some of our younger players that were freshmen last year are going to be sophomores this year, need to step up and make a contribution.
Question 6: Your program has been at a high level for so many years. Now with this new arena you have, can you envision what this new building, this new facility is going to do for you guys? Just in terms of recruiting and in terms of an atmosphere and having your own rink year round. What do you think that's going to do for your program?
Johnson: Well, I think, as people enter the facility whether we bring in somebody on the men's or women's swimming program recruits, men's hockey, even men's basketball, as their locker room has been redone, you look for that wow effect. I think, as you enter it, people are going to see it.
I think Barry (Alvarez), and certainly all the people in our senior staff that had a hand in pushing this project forward are certainly very proud of it. The La Bahn's who started it with their great donation. It's an indication to me, as a fan of the program, as a fan of the athletic department, that we're committed to our athletes. We're committed to trying to give the coaches the best resources they have available, or we have available, to run the programs as they see it.
And so from a recruiting standpoint, as you bring young kids into it, they get excited. What I get excited about, we're able to do everything. We function out of one building. So whether it's dealing with academics, whether it's dealing with strength and conditioning, video, practices, games, coming to see the coaches, the players don't have to go anywhere. They don't have to walk, get on their scooters, ride their bikes to go get something. If they're freshmen this year, they live right across the street in the dorms. The farthest places they have to reach out to is when they go to classes.
Once we get into La Bahn next week, they'll do everything in house, and that's a huge advantage to the players and the future athletes that's are part of those programs that I mentioned.
Question 7: You now had multiple occasions to spend off seasons either coming off winning a National Championship or losing a National Championship. What is the difference in motivation, preparation that you can sense for yourself and for the student athletes coming back after a win or a loss?
Johnson: The winning part of it is a lot more enjoyable. I think the process doesn't change. I mean, like I mentioned, this freshman class is a little bit bigger than we normally have. But when you start, the kids come on campus, and you start working with them. The process, to me, continues today as it did 10, 11 years ago when I started with the women's program.
Get them acclimated to school, try to work with them on a daily basis to make improvements, get tested on the weekend. Come back Monday and start the same thing. So you go from the summer where you might be looking at things on a bigger scale whereas we get into our little cocoon right now and into our little world that I go on a daily basis, that's what we get wrapped in.
So I'm trying to figure out penalty killing personnel, I'm trying to figure out power play individuals. Trying to figure out how this piece is going to go together. And then after Friday night's game, I think our coaching staff will have a better indication because right now you don't know how you're going to play.
Practice looks good. Kids are excited. Everybody's smiling. Then we really start our journey together as a group, and coaches and players trying to figure things out once we start playing our games.