Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Johnson among hockey’s elite, honored with Lester Patrick Trophy

Already boasting one of the strongest resumes a hockey coach could ask for, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team’s very own Mark Johnson can now add “Lester Patrick Award recipient” to his list of accolades.

The award itself is one of hockey’s most distinguished. In 1966, it was presented to the NHL by the New York Rangers in memory of Lester Patrick. Patrick devoted 50 years of his life to hockey, first as a player, then as a coach and eventually a general manager.

“First, it’s a great award,” Johnson said. “They don’t give it out too often. Second, it’s an individual winning it which means you’ve done some things for a long period of time to help our sport grow and help impact a lot of kids lives. When that happens it certainly makes my career as a player and a coach. It puts a smile on my face. It’s very humbling.”


The Lester Patrick Award is given to coaches, players, officials or other personnel within hockey for their contributions to the game.

Johnson, of course, has made plenty of contributions.

He’s been a Badger since the beginning, playing college hockey for his father, “Badger” Bob Johnson. In his three-year career at UW, Johnson scored 125 goals in 125 games, setting a school record that has yet to be broken.

Once out of college, Johnson tried out for the US Olympic team. No one expected much from a team of players who had just finished college and were waiting for a bid at the National Hockey League. On Feb. 22, 1980, Johnson scored two goals, each of which tied possibly the most historic game of hockey ever played, ultimately helping his team upset a juggernaut Soviet team.

While representing the US through 12 other international tournaments, Johnson also enjoyed an 11-year stint in the NHL from 1979-90, playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota North Stars, Hartford Whalers, St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils. Johnson ended his pro career with 508 points, having played a total of 669 games.

But he wasn’t quite done with the sport of hockey.

After a couple of coaching jobs, Johnson landed the head-coaching job at his alma mater for the then-recently established women’s hockey program. Three years after the UW program began in 1999, Johnson took over. Four years later, he led the team to its first national championship, and then returned four more times in the following five years, claiming the national title three more times.

The lone year the Badgers didn’t skate for a chance at the title was the 2009-10 season, when Johnson was on sabbatical coaching the women’s Olympic team. Per usual, his squad found success, bringing home the silver medal.

Each year that Wisconsin won a national championship, Johnson was honored as Western Collegiate Hockey Association Coach of the Year and American Hockey Coaches Association Coach of the Year. He also received WCHA honors in 2003.

Johnson certainly has quite a reputation – one powerful enough to earn the Lester Patrick Trophy.

“It means you’ve done some good things over a period of time and obviously give back to the sport that has been very good to me not only as a player, but certainly has been as a coach,” Johnson said. “Growing up with a legend hockey coach as a father, it’s been part of our livelihood for a long, long time. You’re humbled by it and certainly excited by it.”

As a fixture of an elite program, Johnson has created one of the most successful teams in recent collegiate history.

While the sport itself continually fails to capture the attention of the masses, Johnson has given it the best possibility for survival and appreciation, earning him perpetual respect from the hockey world.

Yet when Johnson first received a call about the award, he thought it was a prank.

“When I got a message from [NHL commissioner] Gary Bettman on my cell phone this summer, I thought somebody was playing a prank on me, so I was sort of hesitant to call his office back in New York, but when I called them back and I was talking to him and he mentions that I’m one of the recipients of the Lester Patrick, it sort of stops you,” Johnson said.

While he has been a part of the game his entire life, Johnson is still thankful for the honor. He also isn’t the only Badger getting attention from the NHL. Former head coach Jeff Sauer, who coached UW from 1983-2002, is also listed among this year’s recipients.

Sauer and Johnson join an elite group of hockey greats, as players and coaches like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Hobey Baker and “Badger” Bob himself have all also received the award.

But Johnson still has more to give to the game. With this prestigious honor in tow, Johnson and the Badgers will drop the puck on another season, chasing another chance at a national championship and another season to help their sport grow and bring more fans into the stands.

Kelly is a junior majoring in journalism. What’s one of your favorite Badger hockey moments? Let her know at [email protected]. Kelly will be one of Herald Sports’ men’s hockey beat writers this season, so be sure to follow her on Twitter @kellyerickson4 for Badgers news all year long.

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