As the University of Wisconsin Athletic Department prepares to honor one of its most successful coaches, men’s hockey coach Mike Eaves remembered the life of “Badger Bob” Johnson.
The ice sheet at the Kohl Center will be renamed “Bob Johnson Rink” Friday prior to the Badgers’ game against Colorado College. In his weekly press conference Monday, Eaves said Johnson had a widespread impact on himself, the program and the game itself.
“He was cutting edge all through his career,” Eaves said. “Because of the type of mind he had, he would stay on top of things.”
Johnson coached at Wisconsin for 15 seasons and won three national titles during his time in Madison. Eaves was a member of the 1977 NCAA Championship team coached by Johnson.
Eaves and Johnson later reunited in the professional ranks. In 1983, Eaves joined the Calgary Flames, who Johnson coached at the time.
“I wasn’t cognizant of what he was doing [in Madison]. I was just too young,” Eaves said. “Having a chance to play for him again in Calgary, I was in a more mature place in my life that I was able to appreciate.”
Eaves recalled the night Johnson was taken to a Pittsburgh hospital after he suffered a brain aneurysm. UW’s current head coach learned of the news and traveled to Pittsburgh, describing that period as a “tough time” for everyone involved, including Johnson’s wife, Martha.
Martha will be on hand Friday to drop the puck before the game.
“I think it’s so apropos that she’s dropping the puck,” Eaves said. “She was right by his side the whole time.”
When asked what characteristics of the current Badger team Johnson would appreciate, Eaves pointed to the competitiveness of his own team. Eaves also said Johnson was particularly fond of the power play.
Eaves added that Johnson’s death at age 60 was a loss for hockey in the U.S., calling Johnson and former U.S. National team coach Herb Brooks, who also died at an early age, “icons” of the game. He lamented the loss of the two coaches and wondered how profound their influence on the game may have been had they lived longer.
Wisconsin’s coach said he learned even more about Johnson after his playing days came to an end. In the early stages of his coaching career, Eaves discovered Johnson was a capable handyman, electrician and family man.
“That’s something I never thought I would never hear about Coach,” Eaves said. “When I knew him, he was just all about hockey.”
Reporters asked Eaves if Johnson would be capable of coaching in the modern era.
“Without a doubt,” he said.
Kerdiles suffers injury
Freshman forward Nic Kerdiles, currently serving a 10-game suspension, suffered a minor medial collateral ligament injury Saturday while playing for the United States under-18 team, Eaves said.
Kerdiles’ injury won’t require surgery, but he will be out for a few weeks because of the injury.
Eaves said he hopes to have Kerdiles back one week before the team begins a series with Denver on Nov. 30.
The highly-touted freshman forward is in the midst of serving a suspension handed down by the NCAA less than two weeks ago. The NCAA ruled that Kerdiles violated its amateurism code by accepting an improper benefit from a professional hockey agent.
The NCAA initially suspended Kerdiles for the entire season, but his suspension was reduced to 10 games after UW appealed the decision earlier this month.
Rumpel winning battle in front of net
Eaves addressed the play of two of his goaltenders and said one has “separated” himself from the other with his performance so far.
Sophomore Joel Rumpel has been granted more time in the net because of his consistency this season, according to Eaves. Rumpel has been the goaltender for three of the Badgers’ four games this year.
The other option between the pipes, sophomore Landon Peterson, saw his lone action in a 4-2 loss to Northern Michigan Oct. 13.
Rumpel has boasted a higher save percentage and goals against average rate than Peterson so far this season.
“There’s a little space now,” Eaves said. “It’d be silly to say anything less.”