Mark Johnson said his father Bob Johnson would smile at the state of the hockey in the United States.
From the number of Americans occupying NHL roster spots to the expanding opportunities for young boys and girls to play the game, one of the greatest coaches of all time would be pleased at the progress that USA Hockey has made.
Mark Johnson has experienced more than his share of success over the course of his career as both a player and a coach, and he sees even greater things on the horizon, something that would make his father very proud.
And no USA Hockey program would bring a bigger smile to “Badger” Bob’s face than the American Development Model. That’s because the revolutionary program is predicated on creating a fun learning environment for players of all ages and skill levels.
Many of the principles that have become the cornerstone of the ADM were long ago advocated by American coaching pioneers such as Lou Vairo, Dave Peterson, Herb Brooks and Johnson.
“The ADM is about creating this atmosphere where kids can play games and can go out and enjoy what they’re doing,” said Johnson, who coached Team White to a 5-2 victory at the 2013 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game.
“Ultimately it’s still a game, so when we create atmospheres where kids are having fun while they’re learning the fundamental tools to become better, it’s a pretty good scenario,” he said.
Johnson said that no matter what level his father was coaching, whether it was college or the pros, he tried to instill that same philosophy of making it fun for his players to come to the rink with a smile on his face.
“Even at the college level you’re always selling the game. I learned that from my dad,” said Johnson, who is in his 11th year coaching the University of Wisconsin women’s program after six seasons on the men’s side.
“Certainly USA Hockey over the last couple of years with the ADM program is trying to get more kids involved and create opportunities where they enjoy coming to the rink. The end result is kids are going to be leaving the rink with a smile on their face and coming back and wanting to play more.
“You put those two together and you have a pretty good roadmap for success,” he added.
And while the ADM is only four years old, it is an important step in the overall growth and improvement of the American game. When both Johnson and his coaching counterpart at the Prospects Game, Joe Mullen, broke into the NHL in the early 1980s, the number of American players competing at that level was fairly small. Today, the opportunities afforded to players continues to improve.
“It’s come a long way and a lot of the credit has to go to USA Hockey, certainly at the grass-roots level with all the volunteer coaches who put in a lot of time and energy in the developmental programs,” Johnson said.
“A lot of things have been in place for a while and we’re reaping the benefits as we go through time now.”
It certainly is a great day for hockey.