MADISON, Wis. -- In the past 40 years, the Winter Olympics have become a much bigger deal than they were in 1980, when Mark Johnson was the leading scorer on the Miracle On Ice team in Lake Placid, N.Y. That was something he learned a decade ago when Johnson coached the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.
In 1980 the Opening Ceremonies were held on a converted high school football field with temporary seating set up to accommodate roughly 30,000 spectators. Perhaps that was fitting with the blue collar approach Johnson and his 1980 teammates took in their march to the nation’s second gold medal in men’s hockey.
In 2010 Johnson and his team gathered for the Opening Ceremonies inside BC Place, a 55,000-seat domed pro football stadium, and he admits the spectacle was a bit overwhelming. Johnson coached the Americans to a silver medal that season.
Johnson’s first taste of Olympic hockey came not in 1980, but four years earlier, in 1976, when he was just a senior in high school in his hometown of Madison, Wis. Johnson’s father, legendary University of Wisconsin coach “Badger” Bob Johnson, was selected to coach Team USA that year, and brought Mark along as a member of the team for about a month in their pre-Olympic tour, although Mark was not on the team that eventually finished fourth at the Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria.
One year later, playing for his father as a freshman with the Badgers, Mark was named the WCHA’s top rookie after posting 80 points in a 43-game season and was a member of the school’s 1977 NCAA title team.
In 1980 he became known for scoring big goals in big moments for the Americans. He led Team USA with five goals and six assists in the seven games. Most notable among his goals were the two he scored versus the Soviet Union in the 4-3 win that many call the most memorable moment in the history of American sports. Two days later, he scored the clincher in a 4-2 come-from-behind win versus Finland that cemented the gold medal.
He played pro hockey for 11 seasons in the NHL, with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota North Stars, Hartford Whalers, St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils, and two more seasons of pro hockey in Europe. Johnson has been the Badgers’ women’s hockey coach since 2002, and has led the team to the Frozen Four 12 times and to five NCAA titles.
The Rink Live caught up with Johnson, now 62, at LaBahn Arena in Madison in late January, after a Wisconsin practice, for a conversation about his Olympic experiences, and the advice he gives Badgers who are headed off to play for their country.
Read more Miracle on Ice coverage on The Rink Live, a Forum Communications' website dedicated to amateur hockey.